Following some reflection about my work there, I was reminded that God first opened the door for me to go and serve in that country following 9/11 in 2001. It was, as you recall, a very troubled time in our world and a very uncertain opportunity to venture into such a remote and unknown frontier mission field. About all I knew about it was that one group of Baptists had traveled there to explore initial contacts and open channels through which humanitarian efforts might begin. There was some participation from Georgia in that initial group. All I knew was that famine had ravaged the country because of typhoons and harsh winters and the need was great.
My involvement there continued until I retired from the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2012. Since those early days, I have traveled to the country several times, served in the inner-workings of planning projects and delivery of services, hosted delegations from DPRK to Georgia, opened my home to DPRK officials and helped raise needed resources for the ongoing work. I can say at this point in my ministry that I was given by God an opportunity to participate with other ministers of the gospel in the opening of a new and strategic field of service through which great good has been done for the cause of God’s kingdom.
One of the most striking differences in the work that I was a part of and what we are seeing today is how open and glaring everything is as it unfolds on television and new channels between the two countries. Their first requirement that I was pledged to maintain was absolute anonymity. Everything had to be done quietly. There could be no articles, no interviews, no public statements of any kind. We even had to ask permission from a DPRK official to take a picture. The reason we were told that our contacts were limited and controlled was in respect of the North Korean people who were at that time suffering from the hardships caused by natural disasters. Of course, we obviously complied with the wishes of our host country.
Every negotiated project we did was done quietly. We did some great things. While I worked in the country, we opened bread factories, established pig farms—goat farms—farms which produced corn; we hosted athletic teams from this country to theirs, we sent performing groups like Casting Crowns, The Annie Moses Band and the Sons of Jubal. We trained doctors in new medical procedures, we drilled fresh water wells, helped reestablish a portion of their pharmaceutical industry, sent medical equipment and worked with our State Department providing needed Korean Speaking monitors for US Aid services. All this work was done quietly, behind closed doors between DPRK officials and the group of people I was a part of.
It is hard for me to get a grasp of things unfolding today in broad daylight with so much publicity and fanfare. When those with whom I had contact from there insisted on absolute silence to protect the integrity of their country and require respect for those who were suffering, I have trouble trusting this new public spectacle. I keep remembering what Jesus said,
“So, when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4)