As I watched the dramatic opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics last week (8/8/08) I kept thinking of my visit to the North Korean border five days before. The contrasts and comparisons between our day at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with Holy Given School of Missions participants and the Olympics are messing with my head and heart.
The day before our tour a young woman from North Korean who had come to faith in Christ the night before had shown me a drawing she had done during an exercise in hearing God. She had drawn thick clouds covering her homeland. Rays of sun were barely breaking through in a few places—signs that God’s saving Presence cannot be shut out. In contrast to the lightshows, surreal lighting of the torch and spectacular fireworks of the opening ceremony in Beijing it poured rained as we crossed into the DMZ between South and North Korea into fog under dark clouds covering lush mountains.
In contrast to the parade of the fittest of athletes from nearly every nation, I followed a long line of ministry workers from frontline ministries in Kurdistan, Ukraine, Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Lesotho and 13 other countries down a narrow tunnel towards North Korea. This tunnel hewn out of rocks descending 25 stories underground was one of three that North Korea had hewn out of the rock so troops could invade S. Korea. Now it’s a heavily guarded tourist attraction that ends in a pile of razor wire—a serious impasse at the border of a hard place.
I descended with Chong Bok (Chuck), a South Korean businessman who has taken off 5 weeks to attend the Holy Given School. We discussing our callings and his growing desire to engage in ministry to the poor and oppressed.
Over the week I was In Seoul I learned that many Olympic athletes had been living and training there because of Beijing’s debilitating air pollution, flying the short distance into China for events. As our humble training was happening there in Shalom Mission Church, and I was stories of persecution and trials in North Korea and elsewhere.
Human rights in North Korea remain among the worst in the world. There is no freedom of religion and Christians are often tortured, imprisoned and murdered. Deviation from state doctrine is met with ruthless and devastating punishment. Around 200,000 are believed to be held in prison camps with no hope of release (see http://www.amnestyusa.org/all-countries/north-korea/page.do?id=1011213&n1=3&n2=30&n3=963 and references below).
I have been amazed by the level of skill and dedication of Olympic athletes competing in all the events. These people have hours training to perfection, pursing records, medals and glory for their nation. Are we taking our faith and callings so seriously? Yesterday in our Tierra Nueva staff prayer we read together 1 Tim 4:6-16; 2 Tim 3:16; Heb 5:14; 12:11-12 and were struck by Paul’s emphasis on deliberate training.
“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. Prescribe and teach these things (1 Tim 4:8-11).
We discussed the challenges of our ministry to gang members, inmates, juvenile offenders, farm workers and the mainstream church. We are feeling called into a higher level of commitment both here and as we think about the larger world.
I think back to my Saturday at the border, when my friend Darrell and I stood under umbrellas and prayed with three N. Koreans at a special overlook where you can normally look into North Korea (see photo on my blog www.bobekblad.com). I looked out into the fog towards the border, praying for the fog to lift, the rain to stop, even for an instant… and it did. I saw a lush, green ridge where a North Korean guard post stood and prayed for the light of Christ to shine on the guards and the people of N. Korea.
We ended our time at the border praying together for North Korea at a sparkling train station that is poised to send trains into Pyongyang at the earliest opportunity—bringing products, a lifestyle to thirsty new consumers. I’m now home pondering how I can best prepare and train people to bring the light of Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God into the dark and thirsty places of our world. Please pray:
— for us as we prepare more courses and a ministry school through
The People’s Seminary and the completion of our retreat/training center New Earth Refuge.
— for the Holy Given School still going on In Seoul, Korea
— for the underground church in North Korea
Hear a conversation between Darrell, me and Lesley-Anne in Seoul http://pacificministries.googlepages.com/bobandlesley.WMA