Peace, from East to West Religion: Words from Korea set the stage on annual World Day of Prayer uniting Christian women around the globe.

March 08, 1997|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

"An nyung" -- peace.

Everybody wants it. All over Baltimore yesterday, the country and the world, Christian women prayed for it, invoked it as a greeting in their 110th World Day of Prayer services. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, the denomination didn't matter. What mattered was their desire for peace and their symbolic communing with women half a world away.

This year, Korean women wrote the annual prayer service organized each year by Church Women United. Their prayers were for reunification of a country bloodied by war and divided along the 38th Parallel by a Demilitarized Zone bristling with arms and men. They prayed for healing and forgiveness, and for the Korean "comfort women" used as sex slaves by the Japanese in World War II.

In Govans, they prayed; in Catonsville, they prayed; in Upton, they prayed. It was one of those private demonstrations whose bedrock is faith. They weren't in the streets demonstrating for peace, but gathered in a sanctuary, strong in the belief that something good would come of this.

"This gives us an opportunity to recognize that women all over the world and children need everyone's care," says Ruth LeVee, 77, who led the service at Govans Boundary United Methodist Church. "Today we have set aside for the whole world, to pray on its sickness and our ability to heal it."

They call it "informed prayer and prayerful action." Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church held a slide show explaining some of Korea's past. One frame showed an Aug. 15, 1993, demonstration in which thousands of Koreans linked arms to form a human chain. Then as now, they wanted reunification.

At each church, women invoked the image of the seed, taking their cue from this year's theme: "Like a seed which grows into a tree." Korean feminist artist Kim Young-Im's commissioned illustration shows a woman in a pose of prayer and supplication, and growing from her, a tree whose fruit is the world.

At Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church, three members of the Ava Fields Dance Ministry performed a "dance of the seeds" to Kirk Franklin's "Behold The Lamb." At Govans Boundary, Esther Jackson, 80, put it bluntly: "Women are the ones that get things done. They raise the babies."

All this is not to say men are the source of all evil and should be pushed aside as much as possible. Here and there a man showed up at the services. But this was a woman thing, understand?

It began in 1887 with Mary Ellen James, president of the Women's Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. She looked around the immigrant communities of New York City, saw squalor, and called for a day of prayer. Two years later, Helen Barrett Montgomery and Lucy Waterbury Peabody, a couple of Baptist women, called for a day of prayer for Christian missions throughout the world. By 1927, the World Day of Prayer was an established event.

Palestinian women wrote the message for 1994, and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin began peace talks. This week, there were preliminary discussions between North and South Korea. The women point to these incidents, take offerings for programs in South Korea to help prostitutes and foreign women working in that country, and they pray.

At St. Peter Claver Catholic Church on Fremont Avenue, the prayers seemed not just for those on the Korean peninsula, but also for the women, children and men up and down the neighboring stretches of Pennsylvania Avenue, Presstman and Carey streets and Riggs Avenue. There is as much need for peace and healing there as anywhere.

The women gathered at St. Peter Claver sang songs with a decidedly gospel feel. And when they sang, "Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me," they joined hands and swayed gently from side to side.

Linda Boyd's reading of the "Encounter With Lives" lifted the words off the page and sent them into the hearts of those listening on Fremont Avenue. Perhaps Boyd, 37, and a member of Fulton Baptist Church, was fired up from the Baptist Convention she had been attending all week, or perhaps it was her back injury and Lupus that put special feeling in the words, "We must bring about a society where women, children, the elderly, the poor, the sick and the disabled can be respected as persons.

"Even in the church," she said, reading from the service, "we have to change our attitudes."

Yes, the women nodded. Yes.

Their day of prayer began along the International Dateline in Fiji and ended in the Aleutian Islands, Midway and Samoa.

"The women lead the church in caring for the world," says the Rev. Joan Senyk, 58, of Govans Boundary. "The words of the service were written by Korean women, but they speak to women everywhere."

An nyung -- peace.

Pub Date: 3/08/97

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