On July 7, a diverse group of 32 young people converged at Seoul’s Chondogyo Cathedral to open the 2017 URI Korea Youth Camp. I was asked to speak in front of the group to introduce myself as the representative from Australia, and to express my hopes for the next five days. Awkward and unsure that many people would understand my Aussie accent, I approached the microphone. I spoke briefly about how, in my faith tradition in the Uniting Church, I love the idea of witnessing another’s humanity as a way of witnessing the divine at work.
The following few days was a time of immense witness for all of us in getting to know one another on a personal, cultural and faith level. As we visited sacred cites of worship and cultural significance around Korea, we shared very personal moments reflection and discovery, learning from the insights of one another’s experience, and the wisdom of the camp leaders. We were also able to get to know some of our colleagues in further depth through working groups where we brainstormed and prepared a presentation about what it means to be a URI global citizen. It was through this process that my wonderful ‘family’ unpacked our own perspectives on faith and peace.
There were so many moments of laughter and connection as we tried to translate each other’s thoughts from five different languages, all to rest on the idea of communication. We developed our ideas around the URI principles and personal beliefs in searching for greater understanding in one another’s faith and culture as an enactment of peacebuilding and global citizenship.
While this group work was a beautiful and harmonious experience, I also found the task of understanding and witness throughout the camp challenging at times. I noticed my own positionality as a feminist queer Christian. I was exhausted at times by the sheer masculinity in the messaging of faith, whether through the male faith leaders we spoke to, or the various religious cites that by and large feature men as dieties and men practicing their faiths. I guess I observed something that is a pattern in faith, that it is often messaged as a relationship between man and their god, where women are often objects or vehicles for a man’s spiritual journey, rather than being granted a distinct spiritual and theological journey of their own.
This is a challenge that I took away from the camp, and I am grateful for the reflection it has brought about. I had the most wonderful, human experience in making friends with many amazing young people of faith. Through both the joys and challenges, my belief in the common experience of every one of us, our hopes for peace and harmony, particularly in the reunification and reconciliation of Korea, was very much affirmed. The URI youth camp not only talked about compassion and witness of other’s humanity, but imbibed it. I went away from those five days with renewed hope and humility, assured in the knowledge that through interfaith co-operation, we can truly build peace and understanding especially around issues of gender and sexuality in largely patriarchal faith spaces.