Although most of the stories of the Bearing Witness site come from decades, or even centuries, ago, we also highlight current, ongoing stories of costly discipleship through this blog and our Facebook page.
In those spaces over the past few months, we’ve featured the stories of two young men—one a Mennonite from South Korea and the other a Colombian from the Foursquare Gospel Church—who have faced detainment or imprisonment for their faith-based objection to the mandatory military service required by their respective countries.
Recently, new updates that testify to the possibilities for solidarity within global church networks have emerged in both of their stories. Unlike in earlier eras when news traveled more slowly and prayer was often the only possible immediate response, believers are now able to support and advocate for each other across great distances in a variety of ways that continue to include prayer.
Sangmin Lee: South Korean Mennonite CO
Sangmin Lee, who was sentenced to prison in April for failing to fulfill his military service, has now completed nearly five months of his 18-month term. Jae Young Lee, a member of Sangmin’s congregation in Seoul, was able to briefly visit him last week and returned with a mostly positive report.
Sangmin’s parents, who have visited him multiple times since his imprisonment, were also present at the visit. Before his sentencing, Sangmin was most worried about how his decision would affect his family relationships. Even though they do not agree with Sangmin’s conscientious objection stance, his parents have accepted his decision and, together with Sangmin, are reconciling their relationship.
They were particularly moved by the international letters of support for Sangmin that Jae Young delivered, some of them sent by you via the letter campaign. “Your prayers and letters mean a lot for him and his family,” wrote Jae Young. Sangmin’s mother, in particular, thanked supporters for their “concern and prayers for my son, even though you are not family members.”
After their visit, Jae Young reflected, “I believe that God has a wonderful plan of peace and reconciliation for [Sangmin’s] life and relationship with his family through this ‘unexpected incident’ called CO.”
Read more about Sangmin’s story in The Mennonite.
Jhonatan Vargas: CO in Colombia
A few weeks ago Colombian Mennonite organization Justapaz sent out an action alert on behalf of Jhonatan Vargas. Jhonatan is a young youth leader from Barrancabermeja, Colombia, who attends a Foursquare Gospel church there and believes his faith prohibits him from serving in the military.
Last year Jhonatan was illegally recruited by the army and held at a battalion for three months, despite declaring himself a conscientious objector (a position legally allowed by the Colombian state, but often unrecognized). After receiving a leave to visit his family, he never returned to the battalion.
In August of this year, the army declared him to be AWOL and began military criminal proceeding against him. A week later, he was detained and taken into military custody.
“The moment I found out that conscientious objector Jhonatan had been arrested, my heart sank,” wrote Anna Vogt, coordinator of communications for political advocacy at Justapaz. “In between the frantic elaboration of action alerts and hashtags, I did not actually believe anything would work.”
Yet the local and global response to Jhonatan’s situation was swift and significant. Many committed to prayer. Over 300 others sent emails to the Colombian military’s Director of Recruitment and other relevant officials. Still more tweeted about Jhonatan’s case on Twitter.
Miraculously, on September 16 the Colombian Constitutional Court officially recognized Jhonatan as a conscientious objector, declaring that his rights had been violated by the military and the Colombian government. Even more miraculously, the military released Jhonatan on September 17, after thirteen days in custody. Just today, Justapaz announced that Jhonatan has received his military passbook card (libreta militar), which is required for many types of employment and for graduation from university.
Both of these young men need our continued prayers, for they still face many obstacles in adhering to their faith in an adversarial context. Yet their stories remain a source of encouragement and inspiration for global Christians seeking additional ways to support those whose faithfulness has led to suffering and opposition.
New technological forms like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and email allow us to let others know that we are praying for them and sharing their story more broadly—sometimes within our congregations, other times with government officials who have the power to change their situations.
While their local church communities are still the primary source of support, those of us who live far away are now able to provide encouragement and support in very tangible and timely ways. Of course, there are many other cases of religious persecution and discrimination worthy of our attention, but Sangmin’s and Jhonathan’s stories should encourage us to keep praying, writing…and even tweeting.