Franklin Graham brings message of rebirth to North Koreans

|PIC1|The Rev Franklin Graham concluded his trip to North Korea on Sunday with a message about rebirth through Jesus Christ at a Protestant church in capital city Pyongyang.

He shared from the book of John about the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Graham told the hundreds of North Koreans in the audience that they could be born again through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, according to the Christian relief agency Samaritan's Purse, which Graham is president of.

The North Korean choir sang "Amazing Grace" after the sermon.

Graham and his father, renowned evangelist Billy Graham, are the only two Americans who have been permitted to preach at Bongsu Church. Billy Graham visited the Pyongyang church in 1992 and 1994 and Franklin Graham preached at the church in 2000.

The church was re-located to a new building within the past year using donations from South Korean Christians.

"I did not come here as a politician," Graham told the congregation, "but as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The message was repeated by Graham throughout his four-day trip to the troublesome country.

Reports emerging from the reclusive country tell of extensive crimes against humanity, including widespread torture, imprisonment without trial, rape and forced labour against civilians deemed a threat to the government. A simple criticism of the government or being a Christian could constitute a threat to the state and result in imprisonment and other forms of punishment. Citizens are also punished for leaving the country and are sent to labour camps and tortured when recaptured.

Besides horrendous human rights violations, North Korean is in the midst of a serious famine. The UN Food Programme recently warned that millions of North Koreans are in danger of starvation in the coming months if they do not receive aid.

The country suffered from devastating floods last August that washed away crops and resulted in the worst level of hunger in nearly a decade.

Samaritan's Purse, in response to the flood, delivered $8.3 million worth of medicine and other emergency supplies to North Korea last autumn. It is one of only five non-government organisations allowed to help distribute food provided by the US government within North Korea. The first shipment of grain arrived in July.

During his visit, Graham further discussed with North Korean officials how Samaritan's Purse could help the North Korean people and strengthen US-North Korean relations.

At the welcoming dinner Thursday night, Graham was introduced by the Rev Kang Yong-sop, chairman of the central committee of the Korean Christian Federation. He was also welcomed by Ri Jong-ro, director of international affairs for the Korean Christian Federation, and Jong Tae-yang, vice director of foreign ministry.

Graham recalled his family ties with North Korea. His mother, Ruth Bell Graham, had attended a Presbyterian mission school in Pyongyang in 1934. She had often recalled fondly her experiences at the Pyongyang school, Graham said.

Billy Graham, meanwhile, first visited North Korea in April 1992. Graham shared his father's recollection of his visit:

"President Kim pointed outside and said that just as the long Korean winter was about to give way to the warmth of spring, so he hoped that the relations between our two countries would soon move away from the coldness of winter and into the warmth of spring.

"In the years following the late President Kim's statement to my father, many people in my own country doubted if it would ever happen. But because of recent events we can truly say that a new spring time has arrived in the relationship between my country and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Franklin Graham said.

Recently, North Korea has made progress on its nuclear disarmament to the praise of the international community.

"There are understandably differences between our countries," Graham said, "but the overarching theme is the friendship that was established between my father and Kim Il-Sung. My prayer is that this relationship will grow even stronger, and I pledge to do everything I can to make this happen."

The head of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association also visited medical development projects, including a hospital in Sariwon where the group is preparing to instal a generator and solar panels to provide a dependable source of electricity.

Graham arrived in North Korea on Thursday and concluded his trip on Sunday.