My Neighbor

It’s another winter night here in Korea; and it’s still surprisingly cold here. I can’t sleep tonight because of a fatal error of choosing to drink a cup of hot coffee after a late evening out with friends. My husband is sleeping on our comfy mat now that the ondol heater has finally got our little Korean home perfectly cozy and warm.

Right now in Korea there are many other people resting and comfy just like we are, and if you drove north for the next five hours, there’d be relatively little difference in the conditions enjoyed by the vast majority of the 48.7 million of us sleeping (or, in my case, at least trying to) tonight. But head south for six and a half hours, maybe seven, and then everything is different. Very very different.

From me and my livingroom to a place that is only a fraction of the distance Josh used to drive to come see in MO from Minneapolis, I’ve come to learn something is taking place that so unfathomable I try not to think about it. In this place the mountains are higher, the weather there is much, much colder (some -50 F some days at the unfortunate spots) and the people are stark raving poor. Sudan during the famine poor. Dying, starving poor. As awful as that is, that’s not the bad part. There are also 12 concentration camps full of innocent, starving men women and children of North Korea’s very own citizens, with incinerators and everything else we’ve seen in World War II movies. Even some things more awful, actually.

I’ve been pretty upset about it for an hour or so now and then, and I try to forget. What can I do? Not much from here. I mean, there’s only a 2 mile wide, landmine packed border separating us from them. I honestly can’t do a single thing. Not until recently, anyways.

As unthinkable as the situation in North Korea is, something incredibly good is happening. Though the borders are tightly closed, and most NGO’s are anything but welcome, but a few little but mighty groups of people have been allowed in.Baking bread –IN North Korea– or providing milk to kids, things like that. One of these groups has caught my attention. At first glance, their website is very basic, their photos are very average and so all in all their advertising is nothing special. Yet, the statistics show that there is no doubt that what they have been doing is extraordinary, and so naturally, it’s being talked about here on our side of the world. Now, they’re doing more than even this incredibly powerful opportunity they’ve had to feed kids. They’re helping the kids who have made it across the border, OUT of North Korea and into China, but who made it alone because their parents either drowned or were shot when they crossed. These kids, starving and terrorized and having just been stripped of their parents, make it across the border only to be kidnapped by brothel owners on the other side or have other equally awful things happen to them. But now, thanks to this humble and growing bakery organization, there is hope for some of these defector children because they are building an orphanage to hide them in. Somewhere in China, there’s a place where some of them will be able to stay, be loved, fed, and actually get to live the lives that many North Koreans will never get to have.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve been deeply inspired by the true stories of WWII and the people who, together, literally saved an entire race, one person at a time, by doing something brave and selfless. Sadly the impact of these stories is due in part to a backdrop of horrifically indifferent and sedentary characters whom I feel no shame for despising completely. Stories of church people singing louder on a Sunday afternoon in Germany to drown out the sound of the screaming Jews in rail cars passing by, or an entire town of people who run bakeries and schools and whatever else with full knowledge that a concentration camp is just through the woods from them (Band of Brothers, final episode). Just like everyone else who has read the stories or watched the movies, I just wish I could go back and time and stand in the middle of those groups of people and scream truth at the top of my lungs.

Tonight, as I read more about this organization working in North Korea, I discovered something as beautiful as those stories I’ve treasured so much, where entire families willingly risked their lives to save the lives of their neighbors who knocked on their door in desperation. I looked at the website tonight and was excited to find easy ways to help as well as find all the thorough yearly records of specific financial expenditures and ventures for this organization called “Love North Korean Children”. As my husband and I rest safely tonight in our warm little house, I feel certain that in this moment, my neighbor has just knocked on my door, and it’s my turn to make a choice of who I want to be in their story. I can’t help but think that the gospel makes the truth unmistakably clear. The book I have been reading has influenced me to think about it this way: my “personal” calling, interests, and current responsibilities could not pretend to offer a reasonable excuse for ignoring the wonderful news I’ve heard today. I’m called to treat those incredible little kiddos as if they were Jesus. I’ve had enough money to go out to dinner three times this week. I’m pretty sure that a 5 or 7 or 12 year old Jesus starving, freezing to death or being sold into sexual slavery fits the bill for my calling to make such a beautiful and vast difference so easily.All I have to do is  I think of my students, and it’s easier for me to imagine these children–very specific, precious little people with names, stories and adorable little personalities. Some naughty, some quiet and shy, and some who are so sweet I could just hug them all day. It helps me realize that these kids are my neighbors, because they are just as accessible, real, and my calling as if they had showed up my doorstep tonight in need of much more of a sacrifice from me than just material things at my expense.

It’s exciting to think I can help. I can be a part of something magnificent and rich in value to my Father in Heaven. More than just give financially  … I wanted to write about it today. Those are two things I can do. This week I’m also going to make a permanent page on the blog to hopefully help spread the word about this organization as much as possible. Please help me get a conversation going, and if you know any people or organizations I should write to or for about this, please let me know. I’ll treasure your prayers and accountability to remain a faithful channel of Jesus’ love for these precious little people.

**Photo credits to The New York Times and LNKC


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