Working and waiting in North Korea

Editor’s note: On December 19, North Korea announced the death of its leader, Kim Jong Il. His youngest son, Kim Jong Un, is believed to be the heir-apparent. Kevin Jenkins, World Vision’s international president, visited North Korea in September. His story below was originally published on September 12, 2011.

By Kevin Jenkins. Photo by Nigel Marsh.
Published December 19, 2011 at 12:00am PST

Sixty years ago, World Vision founder Bob Pierce toured central Korea, days before it was annexed by the armed forces of what is now the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He spoke openly of his fear that he would never again see the people he had grown to love, and that his new organization, World Vision, might never be able to share God’s love in practical ways with the children in the north again.

I have just returned from a visit to North Korea, and there, I saw that one of Pierce’s predictions proved unfounded — World Vision is still at work in this country.

The economy is rigorously planned, and there are no private enterprises. People receive their food as an allowance from the government.

Only 16 percent of the land can be farmed, however, and poor harvests and recent floods have plunged an unknown — but significant — portion of the population into serious hunger.

World Vision in North Korea

World Vision has distributed relief food to chronically hungry children —and we are currently negotiating to do so again following catastrophic storm-related flooding — but our compact program there goes beyond that by working in communities to bring positive, lasting change, and improved living conditions.

World Vision works through a local partner to ensure children in two provinces benefit from clean drinking water, nutritious food supplements, improved schools, agricultural inputs, and, a soon-to-be-completed biogas project that will provide fuel while saving trees.

These projects have been made possible by the patience and perseverance over the years of a few leaders and staff in the region who have determined to aid children there, whatever the obstacles.

Longing to do more

We are conscious of the political and historical issues that make working there complicated, but we long to do more for the children and families of North Korea.

The communities with whom we have worked tell us they have grown to trust us and want more of our involvement.

It is my prayer that the work we have done will give us an opportunity to respond in ever-greater ways to the hunger that is suffered by so many children.

The Bible records the prophet Jeremiah, speaking in a different nation during a time of disaster for his people, prescribing prayer and hope in God as the best medicine (Lamentations 3:22-26).

The Lord’s compassions never fail, he said:

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

We, too, are waiting; but while we wait, we seek to do all we can for those children to whom we do have access.

How you can help

Pray for the people of North Korea during this time of uncertainty. Pray that organizations like World Vision would be able to access those who need assistance.