TAEBAEK, South Korea (RNS) — This could have been the quietest place in all of South Korea. But as American missionary Elizabeth Torrey leads a group of high school students up a rocky mountain road, their chatter and footsteps in the melting snow sharply pierce the silence. The town of Taebaek, three hours southeast of Seoul, slowly disappears in the distance, taking any trace of civilization with it.
They come up here to a mountain plateau to pray for Korean reunification. In making such prayers, they’re as far removed from the mindsets of most young South Koreans as this remote location suggests. But the Torrey family of missionaries is convinced God is leading them to educate the “unification generation.”
“This land, this undivided land, is your inheritance,” Elizabeth Torrey tells her students during the prayer session. “And your prayers of your heart matter to see that happen.”
It’s apt to be an uphill climb. Most young adults in this country reject the idea of reuniting with North Korea, which has been a separate country since long before they were born. Seventy-one percent of South Koreans in their 20s oppose reunification, according to a survey released last year by the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-sponsored think tank. That’s higher than across the nation as a whole: 58 percent still want reunification, though that number is down from 69 percent four years ago.
Young South Koreans might want peace and denuclearization, but not reunification, which they fear would bring costly economic repercussions for their country.
Having grown up in South Korea in a missionary family, Ben Torrey says, he moved his family back to Korea from Connecticut in 2005 after he heard God speak to him during prayer. The message, as he recalls it: North Korea would be opening to the world soon, but the South Korean church wasn’t ready.
Ben Torrey now feels called to do his part in what he believes is God’s grand plan. Reunification could facilitate “a new era of missions,” he says, “carrying the gospel along with renewed Chinese and Japanese churches through Muslim lands back to Jerusalem.”
International hopes for a less tense, more stable and possibly reunified Korean Peninsula rose recently when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shattered expectations by visiting South Korea for historic denuclearization talks in April. Though South Koreans remain skeptical, the Torrey’s hope an act of God will open their hearts to reunification prospects.
A grandson of American evangelist Reuben Archer Torrey, Ben Torrey has deep ties to ministry efforts on the Korean Peninsula. In 1965, his father, Reuben Archer Torrey III, founded Jesus Abbey, a nondenominational Christian community where about 30 people live in the isolated Taebeck Mountains and host retreats. Ben Torrey is a bishop in the Syro-Chaldean Church of North America, which describes itself as Evangelical Apostolic, and he works closely with South Korea’s charismatic communities.
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