Editor's note: Samaritan's Purse has worked in the DPRK for more than a decade providing essential medical, dental, emergency and nutritional relief. In September, Samaritan's Purse, USAID and partners airlifted 80 metric tons of emergency reliefsupplies for flood victims in the Provinces of North and South Hwanghae. In 2008, Samaritan's Purse was part of a collaborative effort that delivered some 71,000 metric tons of food to more than 900,000 people in the country. Since 1997, Samaritan’s Purse has provided some $15 million in emergency assistance to the people of North Korea.
As the people of North Korea mourn the passing of Kim Jong Il, many in the West have already begun to speculate about what this transition in leadership will mean both for the nation’s people and the wider world. Some have taken the leader’s death as an opportunity to rehearse Kim’s alleged crimes against his people. Others are issuing strong demands to the new leader, Kim Jong Un.
But today, I pause to offer condolences to the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Regardless of what the world thought of Kim Jong Il as a leader, there is no question that his people are indeed grieving his passing.
Kim Jong Il was a nearly omnipresent force in the DPRK for the past two decades. Both feared and revered, the people of the DPRK are surely in a great deal of confusion and uncertainty following his death.
I have a keen interest in North Korea, having visited there four times. Samaritan's Purse has worked in the DPRK for more than a decade providing essential medical, dental, emergency and nutritional relief. I have seen first hand both the need and resiliency of the nation’s people.
While today’s North Korea is widely known for its religious intolerance, many forget that there is a strong Christian heritage in the nation. Following a revival in 1907, the city of Pyongyang was often called "the Jerusalem of the East." The embers of faith are still burning in the hearts of many in North Korea.
I invite Christians around the world to pray for both the people of North Korea and its leaders during this time of transition. I pray that a new day of religious freedom will dawn under the younger Kim’s leadership.
As Kim Jong Un takes the reins of power, I recognize that there is much uncertainty in the nation and around the world. Charitable and religious organizations like mine are looking expectantly to see what new leadership will bring. Many are wondering if the change will bring increased openness or increased resistance to the West.
Harsh political rhetoric will not solve the grave problems that the people on the Korean peninsula face. Nor will it open doors for people of faith and compassion to positively impact this impoverished nation with practical and spiritual assistance.
Now is the time to offer our support to help Kim Jong Un and others in leadership as they write a new chapter in the history of the nation.
Now is the time for increased engagement. But that engagement won’t happen if we lead with our condemnation of a revered leader.
The government of the DPRK has extended an invitation to me to visit North Korea during the 100th anniversary of the birth of the DPRK founder Kim Il Sun in April. I hope to extend to Kim Jong Un the wishes of Christians around the world for a long season of peace and prosperity for North Korea and an invitation to new dialog about religious freedom for the nation’s people.