My visit was right after a massive crop failure. Thousands were dying from starvation. China had withheld fertilizer and heavy rains flooded fields.
I went to work with a Christian organization. They asked me to help plant a fruit tree orchard on their farm... to help feed hungry children and orphans.
North Korean's receive weekly food rations. This consist primarily of rice, oil and some vegetables. On the Leaders birthdays or special occasions, you can get meat as well. In the winter you get a small coal ration to cook with and heat your home.
Even in a normal year, NK has difficulty feeding its people. 1/3rd of the Country’s children are stunted from malnourishment.
I asked if there was anything I could do to help with the food shortage. I was told that I could buy 10 tons of rice for $7,000. Being a numbers guy, I figured that was 100,000 meals for only $.07 each. Pretty cheap by western standards. With God’s help, we were able to quickly raise the funds.
Before entering NK I went to the organizations Special Needs School on the China side of the border. My son and I were impressed at how the mentally and physically handicapped children were learning skills to make them more independent. China can be a harsh society. Handicapped children are often hidden and viewed as an embarrassment. Many are denied simple things like crutches and wheelchairs, which could dramatically improve their lives.
We got to work with some of the older kids in the bakery. They took a lot of pride in their skills and patiently worked with us until we figured out the proper dough rolling techniques. We were making a high protein, mashed bean-filled bread. Most of this bread was sent over the border to help feed about 2,000 NK kids a day.
The Chinese tolerated the Christians because of the beneficial work they were doing for the kids.
When it was time for me to go to North Korea, I left my son with a Missionary family in China, where he had a great time helping with an orphanage construction project.
My phone was taken and held by the NK border guards. You are not allowed to bring any pictures, magazines or anything revealing the outside world. I was able to bring a camera with no saved pictures. I had an Army guard assigned to me, who was seldom more than a few feet away.
My host took me and my guard to a Chinese merchant to buy 10 tons of rice. This guy worked out of his Audi with a cell phone. He rented a warehouse from the Government and sold rice to ships docked in port.
We had to distribute rice in smaller batches for fear that the Government may take some if they saw us moving a large amount. I was also able to pick up several cases of candy and octopus for the children (apparently kids love octopus).
We visited the orphanage. It was a large seven story building that cost about what a nice US home would run. The city only had electricity for 2 to 4 hours a day, so they were preparing all the meals while they had good kitchen light. Some of the kids had been pushed out of their homes because the families could not feed everyone on their meager food rations.
The Christian group had also built medical clinics, schools and a bakery. I can only imagine how difficult these construction projects must be in a place as primitive as this. You have no stores, few supplies, and a Government that makes everything difficult. Electricity and water only run a few hours a day. Plus winter temperatures of -30F bring everything to a standstill.
I spoke to an American volunteer who supervised one of the NK school building projects. He said that the Government provides a crew of trained construction workers. They were dropped off and immediately two guys went out into the woods to bring back weeds and bark for the group to eat. The workers had only been home for 15 days during the past year.
We went to the farm community which employs about 120 workers. They produce food for all of their NK employees, their families, and the children in CRAM’s various programs. They even raise beef cows, which are rare here.
All North Koreans work for the Government. They typically work six days a week, 10 hours a day. A normal wage is only $3.00 a month. Yes, $3.00 per month. Food is more important than money, especially when the Government storehouses go empty.
I got to visit one of the kindergartens. Cute little kids sang us songs about the destruction of America and South Korea. Other songs were praising the leader. These songs are required to be taught by all schools. They also have regulation classrooms with the story of the leaders divinity on all four walls.
The kids are fed well and educated. I have to wonder what the parents think. The same people that North Koreans are taught to hate and fear are loving their children.
We visited one of the North Korean medical clinics. In a land with an average life expectancy of 50, this is a true blessing. It’s a nice facility, but the supply room was low on much needed medical supplies and medicines. These are western items that are expensive everywhere in the world. The Doctors grow herbal plants behind the building.
After being here, I have a better understanding of how famine actually strengthens the government's control and power. Everyone has a food ration. It varies based on your position and how much you're favored. They also decide what home you will live in and what job you will do. If you want to travel to another city to visit relatives, you have to get permission first.
If you criticize the Government you will never be seen again. If you flee the country, your family will be sent to a work camp.
The Military accounts for 25% of North Korea’s GDP. They have the highest standard of living… everyone else gets what’s left.
There is no commercialism or advertisements. But Government
billboards are everywhere. Each building you enter has paintings of the leader helping children, advancing agriculture, or being hailed by the military. You also see a lot of images of victorious soldiers.
There is little automation. We went by a huge Soviet-built power plant that looked like it has not run in the past decade. Farmers use cows to plow their fields on rocky, hilly land. The only tractor I saw was on the Mission's farm.
My guard would yell at me whenever I took out my camera. He pretended not to understand english.
On my last day, we passed into a different province, so my guard had to check me into the local immigration office. It was closed, so the two of us ate and went on a walk. He was a little buzzed from his lunch time beer.
I helped an old woman lift a heavy push cart onto the side walk. I expected my guard to yell at me, but he just gave me a mean look.
I later handed him my expensive flash-light, which was an awesome gift considering that there is no electricity or lights at night. It's the darkest Country on earth.
He said, in perfect english, "this is for me to keep?". I told him
yes. After that he was nice and spoke english. He explained that if I took a picture of something embarrassing to NK, then he would have to pay dearly for it. Also, if a high ranking officer saw me taking pictures on the street, then he could get in trouble for that. He later helped me get the pictures I wanted when nobody was around.
We had to get approval, to bring in the fruit trees, from a high ranking military official. This was a young guy about 30 years old who picked us up in a chauffeur driven Lexus SUV.
We went to the only restaurant in the city. The restaurant ran on generators and was full of military officials. The young officer and my guard were drinking beer as the food arrived. My host stopped them from eating as he blessed the food. He prayed for NK in Korean. The two military guys became very nervous, because NK Christians are often killed for their beliefs. I was praying for safety. Officers around us had gotten quiet and were staring. When the blessing finished, everyone went back to normal.
The military guys were the best and the brightest. I kept thinking that they could have been Doctors or PhDs in America.
The Mission has found North Koreans to be very honest and hard working. They take pride in their country, as we all do.
What the Mission has accomplished in NK and in China is undeniably the work of God. They see a need and fill it, knowing that somehow God will provide.