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Shortly after the turn of the century, Japan invaded, conquered, and occupied Korea. One group singled out for concentrated oppression was the Christians. When the Japanese army overpowered Korea one of the first things they did was board up evangelical churches and eject most foreign missionaries. One pastor persistently entreated his local Japanese police chief for permission to meet for services. Hisnagging was finally accommodated, and the police chief offered to unlock his church ...for one meeting. It didn’t take long for word to travel. Committed Christians starving for an opportunity for unhindered worship quickly made their plans. The Korean has always had a reputation as a singing church, and so as soon at the doors shut the singing began. It was during a stanza of "Nearer My God to Thee" that the Japanese police waiting outside gave the order to barricade the doors and set it on fire. Knowing they were going to die the pastor instructed them to sing "At the Cross." Just before the roof collapsed they sang the last verse. But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe; Here, Lord, I give myself away Tis all that I can do!

During the decades that followed the hatred and bitterness was passed on to each new generation of Korean children. The Japanese, although conquered, remained a hated enemy. The monument the Koreans had built at the location of the fire not only memorialized the people who died, but stood as a mute reminder of their pain. It wasn’t until 1972 that any hope came. A group of Japanese pastors traveling through Korea came upon the memorial. When they read the details they were filled with shame, and felt their national guilt could not be excused. They returned to Japan committed to righting the wrong. The raised 10 million yen ($25,000), and a beautiful white church building was erected on the site of the tragedy.

When the dedication service for the new building was held, a delegation from Japan joined the group. Although their generosity was acknowledged and their attempts at making peace appreciated, the memories were still there. Hatred preserves pain. The speeches were made, the details of the tragedy recalled, and the names of the dead honored. They decided to close the service with the same two songs sung the day the church was burned. As the song leader began the words to "Nearer My God to Thee" something remarkable happened. The memories of the past mixed with the truth of the song, and resistance started to melt. As the song leader closed the service with the hymn "At the Cross" the normally stoic Japanese could not contain themselves. Tears filled their eyes, and they began to turn to their Korean spiritual relatives and begged them to forgive. They clung to each other and wept. Japanese tears of repentance and Korean tears of forgiveness intermingled to bathe the site of an old nightmare.

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