A planned summit between the US and North Korea next month looks increasingly to be in doubt, as rhetoric between the two nations increase. But churches on the peninsula are continuing their plans for a prayer vigil outside the US embassy in Seoul ahead of the scheduled 12 June meeting between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. The regional ecumenical group the National Council of Churches in Korea has planned the prayer vigil to express its hope for lasting peace on the peninsula.
This week, President Trump indicated that the meeting might be cancelled or postponed, telling reporters: “we're moving along, and we'll see what happens. There are certain conditions that we want, and I think we'll get those conditions. And if we don't, we don't have the meeting. And frankly, it has a chance to be a great, great meeting for North Korea and a great meeting for the world. If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later. Maybe it will happen at a different time. But we will see.”
The US Vice President Mike Pence warned that “this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal”. Those comments were widely seen as a threat by North Korean officials. The US lifted sanctions on Libya after its former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, agreed to decommission the country’s chemical and nuclear weapons programme. A few years later he was overthrown and killed in a US-backed uprising.
Today (Thursday), North Korea’s foreign minister Choe Son-hui warned of a potential “nuclear showdown”, saying: “Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision . . . of the US,” she said. “We will neither beg the US for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us.”
While stark, the language is not unusual in taunts between the two countries; and progress towards peace continues to be made. Today (Thursday) a group of western journalists are in Punggye-ri to witness the destruction of what North Korea says is one of its nuclear test sites. “There was a huge explosion, you could feel it,” Sky News’ Tom Cheshire reports from the site. “Dust came at you, the heat came at you. It was extremely loud. It blew an observation tower to complete smithereens.”
Ahead of the planned meeting – which is currently still planned for 12 June – the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) will hold a candlelight prayer meeting on Thursday 7 June in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square, just outside the US embassy. It expects 300 people to join.
The NCCK is also calling upon its member churches and partners around the world to organise prayer gatherings on the same day, or sometime before the summit. The NCCK has suggested that Korean Christians spend one minute in prayer each day from 6 to 12 June.
Prayer cards featuring the flag symbolising a unified Korea, that was used in the Pyungchang Olympic games, are being distributed in churches, encouraging people to pray for the end of the Korean war, the realisation of a peace treaty, denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula as well as in the world, and a lifting of the sanctions against North Korea, along with humanitarian cooperation to meet urgent needs.
The World Council of Churches is supporting the prayer call and is inviting Christians around the world to join in the prayers. The WCC will hold a candlelight prayer service at noon CEST (10 am GMT) on 7 June at the chapel in its Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.