Pushing Aid through Closed Border in North Korea
June 2, 2017
Rising tensions between North Korea and the West have shut down border traffic between China and its isolated neighbor, but an indigenous ministry has found ways to get aid to starving North Koreans.
With another missile test this week defying United Nations resolutions, North Korea has further provoked a nuclear threat that has brought Chinese soldiers to the border, ready to rush in should the regime fall, said the leader of an indigenous ministry on the Chinese side of the border.
There is widespread suspicion on the border and within North Korea that the regime is shaky, and China has amassed soldiers to prevent South Korea and the United States from filling any power vacuum, while North Korea has increased vigilance and troop presence on the border, he said.
"The people in the border area, half of their life income depends on the border trade, official and unofficial, but at this moment, all border crossing has been closed," he said. "Their winter is very long in that area, so they couldn't cultivate anything in the last six months. Their grains have run out; they have nothing to eat."
An indigenous missionary on the North Korean side of the border from the undisclosed ministry has reported deaths by starvation, he said.
"Now our missionary sees there are so many people on the mountains picking up that grass because they are so hungry right now," the director said. "We want to do something for them.""Before there was so much green grass, but now she sees there are so many people on the mountains picking up that grass because they are so hungry right now," he said. "We want to do something for them."
Any North Koreans trying to cross the border into China now will be executed, rather than sent to prison camps, he said. The cross-border smuggling of goods crucial to the area economy has stopped. Of 23 border crossing points, however, there is one that indigenous missionaries have been able to identify as less tightly monitored than the others.
Moreover, because of their familiarity with local contacts, the indigenous workers have been able to obtain permission from North Korean authorities to transfer nearly 1,500 tons of donated corn to starving North Koreans.
"If we send rice, their officials and other powerful people will take it," the ministry director said. "That's why we decided we'd send corn. This corn they don't eat; only the poor people or farmers eat corn."
The ministry's negotiations with North Korean authorities included winning the right to put the corn, donated from churches in China, in bags with a cross on it, he said.
"We made a cross on 30,000 empty grain bags [now 50,000 bags are planned], and we showed them to the distribution workers," he said. "We said, 'We are going to send them to you with the cross – so if you are hungry and want to receive this grain, we'll send you this bag.' We insisted on bringing the bags with the cross, and we got the approval from the authorities in North Korea."
With assistance from churches in China and Christian Aid Mission, the undisclosed indigenous ministry plans to provide corn for 150,000 people for one month. If the hungry North Koreans mix the corn with wild grass, as is customary, the shipments could feed 215,000 people for a month, the ministry director said. The cost to ship the food in five trucks, including freight and labor, is $50,550.
"We are ready to send it to them, and they are willing to accept it," he said. "This is official, not smuggling, because smuggling is impossible right now. Ask the Western brothers and sisters to pray for them because of the border crossing. They are starving to death right now, so we need to do something for them."
The central government speaks of being opposed to outside aid, but local governments allow it, he explained.
"Both the China side and the North Korean side agreed – this is why we can do it openly," he said.
The corn will be distributed in a city near the border with the help of a ministry contact and local officials.
"Last year we sent over 580 gifts into North Korea," he said. "These people will have a direct benefit. The rest of the gifts will be shared with urgently needy people."
People in North Korea are hoping that a change in leadership is imminent, he said.
"It looks like something is going to happen very soon on the other side – even the people who don't know God are talking differently than before," he said. "Of course, on the other side they cannot talk openly. If they do, they get executed."
Christians in North Korea have exceptionally strong faith in the midst of the turmoil, he said, even though their movements and speech are severely restricted.
"Everybody knows that something is going to happen soon on the other side," the director said. "They are in danger of starvation. Their agony is too hard for them to bear. All walls are closing in, and there are no lights of hope for them. There is only a little ray of hope in this very tiny spot of the country. Please pray for our brother and sisters in darkness. Let North Korean people seek the Lord God, who will do some awesome works for them."
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