As South Korean families recover those lost at sea and bury their dead in the aftermath of the ferry sinking, United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) leaders have sent written condolences, continuing to offer prayers to support their ecumenical partners.
The two denominations sent a letter to the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea and the National Council of Churches in Korea on Thursday, April 24, expressing sympathies for those affected by the tragedy and the nation after the ferry disaster, which has so far claimed more than 170 lives — many of them children — with many more missing who are feared dead.
"Our feelings have moved from shock to anguish as we joined the world in watching and waiting with hope as rescuers searched for survivors among the 476 persons on board, only to have the worst fears of families and loved ones confirmed," the letter reads. "We grieve for the hundreds who are surely lost, and feel particular sorrow at the deaths of so many young people who were headed to Jeju Island on school retreat, most of whom were trapped inside as the vessel sank. While we rejoice with families reunited with those who were rescued, we continue to pray for comfort and peace for the loved ones of the many who have been confirmed dead or who are still unaccounted for."
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the UCC, and the Rev. James Moos, executive minister for the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries, signed on behalf of the UCC. The Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the DoC, and the Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, president of the Division of Overseas Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries, signed for the Disciples of Christ.
The Korean ferry SEWOL set off with 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 of which were children and teachers, before the boat capsized and sank on April 16. There are more than 300 people, mostly from a nearby high school, either dead or missing. The most recent death toll is 171.
The ferry’s captain, Lee Joon-Seok, and other crew members abandoned the ship with many of its passengers still on board. They were arrested on negligence charges. According to several reports, the crew told passengers to stay in their cabins as the ship began sinking, but those who obeyed those orders died. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the accident.
"We will keep all of the people and the leadership of South Korea in prayer during this difficult period of mourning and in the important work of investigation into the circumstances of the accident," UCC and DoC leaders wrote. "While no answers will fully assuage the grief for those killed, we pray for a full, fair and just resolution to the inquiry so that the heart of the nation might proceed to heal."
Read Global Ministries' full letter to Korean leaders on their website.