What I like best about the Olympics is that for two and a half weeks nations are meeting each other on the sports field rather than the battlefield. Lead stories on the news are athletic achievements, not wars or posturing over whose nuclear button is biggest. (Well, it used to be that way. At least in my memory.) The host nation goes all out to invite us to celebrate what is beautiful and up-lifting in its culture, and even the long, drawn out Parade of Nations is full of interesting geographical tidbits. (Like, who knew where Tonga was?) As a novelist, I revel in the personal stories of athletes, what they have overcome, and the network of people who got them there.
When the cultural celebration is somewhere I have lived (Brazil, England) or whose music and literature I love (Russia), I watch every minute. This Olympics is especially fun since I have visited Korea several times in the four years leading up to these games to spend time with our daughter and family living there. Last spring the hype was already huge. I snapped this mascot in a Seoul shopping mall.
On a previous visit we spent a weekend in the PyeongChang area where they were already building facilities and preparing for the influx of visitors. It was one of the most awesome hiking days I have ever known.
A cable car took us most of the way up the mountain. Then I joined the hikers climbing the peak—using chains at one point to pull ourselves up. (Frankly, coming down was way scarier than the ascent!) That flag at the top? It’s a souvenir shop nestled in the rocks. Typical South Korea, although I don’t recall a tea shop, which would have been even more typical.
Of course, the most moving part of the games' opening ceremonies was the two Koreas coming in together, hockey players from opposite sides of the Demilitarized Zone carrying the torch together. I don’t for a moment believe that this is the end of conflict, that the brutal northern dictatorship will crumble in the face of some great "Olympic spirit." But the northern athletes are seeing what the rest of the world is like—including their southern cousins—albeit closely corralled by their minders. Can they possibly go home without a twinge of discontent? The rhetoric that has kept us on pins and needles with family in the peninsula has been scaled back. There is a chance to turn the tide that has been tugging us toward a re-eruption of the war that ravaged the land in the 1950s. My daughter and family moved back to the US in January, but I still have a cousin there. Even if I didn’t, it is home to 76 million Koreans, almost 14 million of whom are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so each time I turn on my television to watch my favorite figure skaters or drop my jaw for the luge or furrow my brow over how I can possibly be so mesmerized by a game that looks a lot like horseshoes on ice played with polished rocks and brooms, I say a prayer for just and peaceful reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. Just, because North Koreans are human beings, too, created in the image of God and as deserving of freedom and security as any of us. Peaceful, because the alternative is beyond fathoming.
Will you join me in praying for Korea these seventeen days? Look beyond the medal count, records set and personal stories to what will be left when the world goes home and two Koreas face each another once more over a heavily fortified DMZ. Ask God to do something powerful—to do what he did in Europe thirty years ago—bring down a wall. Pray for political leaders—theirs and ours—for wisdom, for humility, for a perspective that goes beyond scoring short term political points to what is best for a people who have to live (or die) with the outcome. Pray for God's people in Korea, North and South, for courage, for faith and for selfless love.
If you aren’t watching the games, I invite you to choose some other trigger to remind you to pray. Feel free to write your prayers in the comment section.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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