Monday, October 17, 2005

Helping starving North Korean residents is God’s Will

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10)

Tim Peters, 51, who is currently working as an English speechwriter and an adviser at KFI, takes the above passage from the Old Testament as his guiding star in life. Since June 1996, he has been managing a non-government organization called “Ton a Month Club” ( to help the starving North Korean residents. TMC is a kind of a non-profit Christian relief program, which has sent more than 90 tons of food to the North to date. (2000)

It was in May 1996 when he received a revelation from God to carry out relief activities for North Korea. At the time, he had been listening to a speech by Bernard Krisher, 69, a former Newsweek Tokyo bureau chief, at the Seoul Foreign Press Club. During his press conference, Mr. Krisher urged the world to invest an interest in North Korea's state of famine, which at the time had not been made public. After the speech, Peters rushed to the Shilla Hotel where Krisher had been staying and sought advice on giving food aid to the North. He felt “God's revelation” while praying at home with his wife and youngest son several days later, he said.

To preach his gospel, he came to South Korea in May 1975, which had been under the authoritarian rule of former President Park Chung-hee at the time. Unfortunately, the Park Chung-hee government decided that his missionary activities there were inappropriate and forcibly deported him (it was at this time of trial that he married Kim Son-mi, a Korean). He had a passion for Korea, however, and sought various ways for re-entry. In the end, he decided obtaining a visa for a teaching position would be the easiest way to do it. He returned to college, finished the final semester, and acquired a teacher's certificate. He then worked as a teacher in Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, and returned to Korea in 1988 when the Roh Tae-woo government lifted him and his wife from a blacklist.

The TMC he founded five years ago collects donations mainly through personal networks and charity concerts. The personal network he refers to is highly simple. “It's better for one thousand persons to donate one dollar each than for one company to give one thousand dollars,” he said. Charity concerts also usually take place at the voluntary participation of the performers, some of which include the charity solo given by the world-famous pianist Sam Rotman and a Korean soprano Chang Son-kyong at the Munhwa Ilbo Hall on November 18, 1999, and the concert by Jerusalem Philharmonic in the Hyatt Hotel Grand Ball Room.

The relief goods TMC sends to North Korea mainly comprise corn and flour, although they also contain clothing and medical supplies. The organization chooses these food items because they have high calories and are less liable than rice to fall into the hands of elite North Koreans, such as party executives and soldiers, Since they are also cheap, TMC can procure them in large quantities. “We can buy one ton of corn in China with 200,000 won ($170),” he explained.

Mostly TMC buys the food supplies from the areas bordering North Korea, such as Dalian, which are then offered to North Korean defectors through reliable ethnic Korean-Chinese. Some of the food is also sent directly to North Korea through ethnic Korean-Chinese who has an access to the North, and the South Korean Red Cross, and Jungto, a Buddhist relief organization for North Korea. He and his wife went to a noodle factory in Najin, North Korea, to directly deliver four tons of flour in June 1999, even though tensions between the two Koreas were running high--a naval skirmish between the North and the South had taken place at the West Sea only a few days before. He also visited to five cities near Yanbian to deliver relief goods last week.

When asked about the regulations China may impose on relief activities carried out in the country, he said, “In view of its relations with North Korea, China has signed an agreement to forcibly repatriate North Korean defectors, rather than granting them a refugee status. Even so, it has not tried to stop humanitarian relief activities.”

Nevertheless, it is possible for China to take some measures for his efforts there, once it officially confirms his relief activities. But he did not seem fazed by the possibility.

"More than three million North Korean residents have died of starvation during the last five years, and the number of North Korean defectors exceed 100,000. As long as this reality prevails, I will go wherever they are," he said. He will do so probably because he wishes to spend himself in behalf of the hungry as written in the New Testament.

By Kang Tae-uk, Newsweek Korea

No comments: