(Photo: AP Images / Kyodo News)
Franklin Graham arrived in North Korea on Tuesday to meet with high-level government officials and visit his ministries' humanitarian assistance projects.
"I believe it is important to make visits like this to help improve better relations and to have better understanding with each other," said Graham prior to departing. "I'm going as a minister of Jesus Christ with a message of peace and that God loves each one of us regardless of our borders or politics."
Graham’s latest trip marks the third time the evangelical leader has visited the reclusive nation and the first time an American aid agency has visited since all U.S. humanitarian groups were kicked out more than six months ago.
For much of this year, Pyongyang has been withdrawing from and provoking the international community, particularly with its missile test-launching.
Though North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages since flooding and mismanagement destroyed its economy in the mid-1990s, the country refused American food shipments and booted out all U.S. aid groups operating in the country in March without any reason.
The five expelled groups, collectively referred to as the NGO Partners, had been operating in the country through the USAID-supported food assistance program since June 2008 and said their efforts were the result of the “tremendous” humanitarian need in North Korea.
"Clearly, this is food assistance that the North Korean people need. That's why we're concerned. ... The food situation in North Korea is not a good one," State Department spokesman Robert Woods had told reporters after news broke of the agencies’ expulsions.
Despite the disappointing news, the NGO Partners said they would somehow continue to work to address the needs of North Korea’s people, as individual agencies and in cooperative partnerships.
Groups that have operated in North Korea include Caritas, World Concern, Mercy Corps, and World Vision, among others.
Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has been working in North Korea since the 1997, primarily with medical and dental programs, providing more than $10 million in assistance.
During this week’s visit, Graham will be making a presentation totaling $190,000 in equipment and supplies for a new dental center being built in Pyongyang. He will also visit a provincial hospital in the countryside where a generator system installed by Samaritan's Purse, in conjunction with USAID, is now providing electrical power where none previously existed.
Graham also hopes his limited time in North Korea will allow visits to other hospitals and dental facilities where Samaritan's Purse has offered assistance during the past 12 years.
Following his visit, Graham will travel to China where Samaritan's Purse last year sent a Boeing 747 cargo plane filled with urgently-needed supplies to Chengdu in response to a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that killed 40,000 people.
For nearly four decades, Samaritan's Purse has worked in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution.
The international relief organization, established by Bob Pierce in 1970, provides immediate, no-red-tape response to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals in crisis situations-especially in locations where few others are working.