In just about 10 days, I am going to do something that not a lot of people get to do. And, to be honest, I’m not really sure how I feel about it. I’m going to North Korea.
As expats, we love to travel to new places, get new stamps in our passports, and tick exciting and exotic places off our “must-see” lists. After returning from vacations, we all share about where we went and what we did. Those who have traveled more off the beaten path get to tell their tales of adventure with more pride as those of us who stayed on the main roads listen in awe and often with a hint of jealousy.
That’s how I used to feel about North Korea. When I first arrived in Seoul and I learned that one of our teachers goes up every year to help out at a tuberculosis clinic, my immediate reaction was that I needed to get my name on that list so that I could play Marco Polo to my friends and be able to trump everyone else’s “where I’ve been” lists. However, the more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned, the longer I’ve lived here, my feelings about our mysterious northern neighbor have changed.
To me, North Korea isn’t a box to tick and it isn’t an adventure to be had. It is a country in suffocatingly desperate need and is governed by a leadership so corrupt that we literally have to hand-deliver medications to dying patients to ensure that they don’t end up in the wrong place. The danger of traveling to one of the most closed countries on the planet isn’t the exciting quest of an adrenaline junky. It’s a nauseating, nagging fear that sends me into cold sweats and keeps me up at night.
To be clear, I am not doing anything illegal by going up there. The North Korean government wants us there and is granting us the proper paperwork to make our stay a legally authorized one. I’ll be given a minder who will direct my every move and I’m sure that every minute will be scrutinized by someone; “private” won’t exist. I won’t say anything critical of North Korea nor will I say anything praising another country. I will make sure that my wardrobe doesn’t stray from the black/gray color palette. I will toe the line.
So, why go? What is the draw? Let me ask you this. Have you ever had something weigh so heavily on your heart that you feel like you can’t breathe? Have you ever been so drawn to someone’s story that turning away would take an incredible feat of physical strength? That is how I feel about the North Korean people. Their reality is a terrible one and their government makes it incredibly difficult for anyone to step in and do something, anything, to help. Yet this is what I have been given the opportunity to do. Help. I have the very rare chance to actually do something to make the lives of a few people better.
I was reading in Romans the other day and I came across a passage that we all grew up reciting:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. –Romans 8:28
I happened to notice that there was a note connected to the passage that offered an alternate translation at the bottom of the page. The alternate translation reads:
And we know that God works together with those who love Him to bring about what is good.
How cool is that? This passage isn’t just about allowing a grand puppet master to tie up all the loose ends to make us happy because we are Christian. Rather, it is a call for those of us who love Him to team up with the Creator of the universe and make the world a better place. We get to take an active part in God’s plan to bring about good in people’s lives. We are called to work with God to bring light and hope to a fallen world. We are not only recipients of grace and love, but givers as well.
And so that is why I am going to North Korea: a place that is at once only a few kilometers away and yet also light years away. If you ask me how I’m feeling, I’ll tell you that I don’t know. However, I will ask you for your prayers. Pray for me, for our team, for the people we will see, and the people we will have to turn away because the medicine has run out. Pray for strength, hope, and love. And thank God for the incredible opportunity that we have to work alongside Him to make good happen.