Santa Claus Crossed the Tumen River

[imText1]Sanhe, China — DailyNk met a missionary, Jeon Myung Woo, in front of the Sanhe Custom House. He is a Korean-Chinese who visits and brings aid to North Korean orphanages and accommodations for Kotjebi (begging children) every year. He belongs to a church in Yanbian and is in charge of missionary work to the North Korean people.

– Please briefly describe your aid activities for North Korea.

We share food, dry milk, medicine and clothes gathered by members of the church with which I am affiliated with North Korean children and the elderly when we visit North Korea. Once we enter the North, we bring around 1-5 tons of aid materials.

– How do you visit North Korea? Do you go through some formal procedure to go there?

Big organizations or churches based in the U.S., Europe or South Korea can visit North Korea by formal invitation of the North, but small churches like ours cannot be given the invitation from the North Korean regime. They never receive Chinese churches even as aid organizations.

Therefore, just those Christians and missionaries who have relatives in the North can enter North Korea, on the pretext of visiting their relatives. And then, they deliver goods to persons in supposed secrecy. If the goods are revealed as having been sent by a Chinese church, the recipients could be accused of spying.

– Who are the recipients of the aid?

We want to deliver the goods to orphans, secluded elderly persons or handicapped persons first, but it is not easy. There surely are orphanages and facilities for begging persons and handicapped persons, but they don’t show them to foreigners.

When we tried to secretly connect with someone who is affiliated with the authorities, they decisively denied the existence of all such kinds of persons. To make matters worse, Korean-Chinese visiting the North for the purpose of seeing their relatives cannot freely go around, let alone meet someone publicly. Therefore, public activities are impossible.

We deal confidentially with the executive managers of the facility. The managers of the facilities are receiving bribes from us on the condition that they accept our aid. This is because they cannot keep their jobs if the authorities find out that the facility receives aid goods from Chinese churches.

North Korean workers don’t move for anything if they don’t receive any individual benefits.

– What kind of purpose is there in such private and small scale aid activities?

There is a contrary opinion about the activity because we cannot get much of a response from the aid recipients. Someone said that helping defectors in China would be better. I don’t think that the aid goods are so helpful physically for North Korean people. Moreover, we don’t have any way to find out if the facility managers are simply using them for their own profits.

However, after bringing many goods there, hearsay is spreading among residents. I believe at least that the North Korean people remember our love and heart.

Even though our efforts may be useless to us, we don’t worry about it, because God is watching what we do. We are just agents of God, doing the public works of God.

– How many times have you been in North Korea? Do you have anything special you remember?

I’ve visited there 11 times so far. In the spring of 2006, I’ve met a boy to whom I taught the Bible in China. He was only in his 14th year at the time, but he had already become a young man.

He approached me first and said “hi.” I was so happy but also very nervous that I could be revealed to the North as a missionary, spreading Christianity in North Korea where the religion is completely banned.

– Can you explain briefly the procedure to enter the North through the Tumen River border?

As long as you have a Chinese passport and it is confirmed that you have relatives in North Korea, then it is not so difficult to enter the North. However, the problem is to pass the customs house of North Korea: if you don’t want any trouble, you should prepare some liquor, sausages, and cigarettes as bribes for customs officers. You can’t pass through there with manual cameras. But digital cameras are okay because the custom officers examine the photos you took on the way back to China and they delete some of them, if they are questionable in terms of exposing inside information. Additionally, if you bring out as much money as you brought in, the officers will annoy you.

– How is the general civilian population these days?

For several years, I have gone around North Hamkyung Province. Their lives are still tough. Although it is not as bad as the 1990s, when there were bodies and persons fainting of starvation everywhere, the basic living conditions are still terrible.

Currently, I have seen a lot of children who are not going to school but are instead working and farming.

– You are going to spend Christmas in the North. How do you feel?

North Korean people don’t know the Bible, Jesus, or even Christmas. I cannot carelessly say something about the birth of Jesus to North Korean people. Christmas should be the day when God blesses everybody. North Korean people should not be an exception for that. I think that just a bag of candy or rice can make them smile and it is all the more important on Christmas Day.

On shaking hands with him, his eyes were turned to his freight car, bringing a load of gifts. The Santa Claus from China, in his freight car, then crossed the Tumen River.