Maybe you have had the experience of meeting somebody from your own country, or even your own continent while being in a different part of the world. It may be somebody from a different religion or different class in society, a person that you would not normally associate with. But meeting that person in a place where you are both strangers gives a bond, a shared experience and usual differences fade.
A picture that went viral today reminded me of that feeling. The picture of two young women which had very little in common. One a high school student, one late twenties. One raised in freedom and affluence, one raised in a restrictive dictatorship. Ideologically speaking, they are sworn enemies. But meeting on the other side of the world, they bond over their shared passion for sport, and their shared ethnicity, Korean.
The picture also reminded me of the importance of face to face meetings. It is very easy to be angry from a distance with a group of people you are expected to despise for religious or political reasons. However, when meeting actual people from this group face to face in a ‘neutral’ context, it is often hard to remember why we felt so much fear or anger. When you share a hospital room, have to work together or end up in a situation where you need each other’s help, you meet a person as he is, which is often surprisingly similar to yourself.
That is one of the reasons many Christians try to work in North Korea, even though the environment is very business unfriendly and interaction with North Koreans is strictly controlled. North Koreans are taught to hate foreigners, especially Americans and South Koreans. But is difficult to hate somebody who smiles at you, provides you with a job or who takes care of you in hospital. Face to face contact is a powerful way to break isolation and undermine distrust.
Since isolation is the only way the North Korean regime can keep the hate against foreigners and South Koreans alive, these rare opportunities to meet, share a smile and bond over something non-political are precious. May the picture be a reminder of what the Korean peninsula could look like, and prompt us to pray for the time people from both sides of the border can meet without fear.
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Contributing Author: Kajsa
Kajsa lives and works in Korea with her family and writes about the political, economical, and spiritual development of the country.