Hangoul

할머니 is a Korean term for grandmother, pronounced as “harmony.” In Korea, we call every elderly woman “Grandmother,” even though they are not grandmothers in blood. It reflects the Korean culture of respecting elders. There are grandmothers who have lived very rough lives. In the last decades, the grandmothers have courageously shared their stories so that the tragedy will never happen again. They have told stories despite many tears, pain, fear, shame, and anger.

Hangoul reads at the presentation.The grandmothers were called “comfort women” and were forced into sex slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Most of them were teenagers, at an average age of sixteen years old. They were torn from their homes and torn from their beings. They lost their dignity as humans under sexual exploitation and torture. The hideous crimes of Japanese soldiers remain as wounds on their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Justice still has not been served even though the grandmothers have been protesting for 25 years, every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. They want a sincere apology and acknowledgment of the war crime. Instead, manipulation of history is prevalent. Here in Atlanta, efforts to commemorate the history by establishing a monument at the Center for Civil and Human Rights have been frustrated by Japanese money.

This became the reason for screening the Comfort Women film at Candler, to share the explicit testimonies of the grandmothers’ abuse. They told their stories and showed their tattoos, scars, and graphic evidence of mutilation. It was to raise the awareness of the history, to console the spirits of the victims, and to commemorate the courage of the survivors. Candler students, faculty, Columbia Seminary students, neighbors, and members of the statue task force gathered and shared their reflections. I was moved when I heard from one African American student about the similar sexual exploitation imposed on Black women under slavery. I was convinced that the “comfort women” issue represents all kinds of oppression toward women in the world, especially war violence against women.

Our grandmothers, our harmonies from all over East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Netherlands have stood in solidarity by courageously revealing their stories and persistently protesting against Japanese government. It is our time to participate in the solidarity, realizing that it is our problem. It could have been me forcefully taken away from home, brutally raped, and tortured for numerous nights. It could have happened to my mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, and friends. It is my problem and our problem. It is our duty to remember the history, empathize with the pain, and assure that it will not happen again.

As students who study theology and minister at church, we have a special obligation to think about the God problem in relation to radical evil. Where was God when they were raped by countless men for many days? What was God doing at that moment? Is God good? Is God almighty enough? How can Jesus understand their pain by dying once at the cross? Does God even exist? Was God raped with them? Why did this happen to them, not us? Ultimately, through our efforts, I hope for harmony for the harmonies, who represent women all over the world. 

Jessica

おばあちゃん (obaachan) is what a child calls her grandma in Japanese. When I was growing up, I was lucky to spend many hours with my grandma while my parents were at work. Even luckier, on Sunday mornings, I would get to go to Sunday school at Berkeley Methodist United Church, where I was nurtured and encouraged by a village of obaachans.

groupWhat I didn’t know until I was older was that these women who raised me, these grandmothers, were survivors of World War II incarceration by our own American government. They were girls and young women when their families lost almost everything, when they were forced to board up our church and leave home not knowing where they would be taken. I did not know that many had spent three years behind barbed wire and armed guard in the desert of Utah. But this was their story, this was my grandma’s story.

Until recently, I knew little about the history of Japanese colonization during this same period, but earlier this year, Hangoul invited me to join her work with Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force. This was the first time I truly learned about the extent of sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army—the 200,000 girls from Korea, the Philippines, and China who were systematically kidnapped, raped, and brutalized over a period of years.

We are in the midst of a grassroots effort in Atlanta to build a memorial statue to honor the women who survived this atrocity, to honor these grandmothers.

On March 14, Hangoul led the Emory Korean Graduate Student Association at Candler to host a film screening of testimonies by survivors. On March 28, Candler Professor Ellen Ott Marshall and PhD candidate Won Chul Shin 13T hosted a discussion that placed local efforts in the context of a transnational peace movement in support of survivors.

As I watched the testimonies of the survivors, they reminded me of the grandmothers who raised me, who are of the same age and the same generation. I imagined the women and children who are today being trafficked in and through Atlanta. This is my problem.

It is my problem as an ethnic Japanese woman. It is a problem as a person who loves justice. It is my problem as a Christian. And it is not just my problem, it is our problem. It is God’s problem.

In this time and place, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the pain in the world. I feel this exhaustion too. But I invite you to be present and listening to where God might be inviting you. Whether it is through a new friend or an injustice burning in your heart, may you hear God’s spirit speaking to you and may you answer that call.

[Third photo: Jessica and Hangoul with Helen Kim Ho, member of the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, and Ban-Souk Kim, 2nd-year MDiv student and current president of the Emory Korean Graduate Student Association.]

Hangoul  (pronounced 'Hangear')  Choi  is a second-year MDiv student from South Korea. After graduating from Yongsei University, she came to America by herself to study at Candler in August 2015. Hangoul is president-elect of the Emory Korean Graduate Student Association (EKGSA) and serves in Latinx ministry through music and education. She has also served children with special needs as a Caring Ministry Intern at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church. Hangoul is an artist; for her, painting is a way to express her faith and theology, and to interact with God.

Jessica  Kawamura  is a first-year MDiv student who grew up in a Japanese American United Methodist Church in Berkeley, California. After working as a financial services consultant in New York City and a federal budget analyst in Washington, D.C., she returned to graduate school to pursue a call to local church ministry. Jessica is excited to intern this summer at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose Japantown.