NCC/CWS Delegation to North Korea Includes Humanitarian Aid

Korean Peninsula, November 17 -- A seven-member ecumenical delegation from the United States -- led by Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), and the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director of Church World Service (CWS) -- reported significant results from their meetings in North Korea, which took place there Nov. 12-14. The visit marks the culmination of a year-long initiative by NCC and CWS.

The Korean Christians Federation (KCF), a long-standing ecumenical partner based in Pyongyang, North Korea, hosted the delegation, who will spend this week in Seoul, South Korea, in a specially convened National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) Assembly, and taking part in an international Interfaith Peace Conference.

The delegation issued a joint statement calling for six responses by Americans, Koreans, and the international community to the burgeoning political and humanitarian crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Humanitarian Aid Distributed

The delegation celebrated a mission accomplished as they monitored the distribution of 420 metric tons (132,000 pounds) of refined wheat flour that was donated by Church World Service and was one of the primary reasons for the group's visit to Pyongyang. The ecumenical leaders also had an opportunity to tour the KCF's Bongsu Noodle Factory and Bakery, which processes one metric ton of flour daily.

The shipment, which cost nearly $100,000 ($99,960) to deliver, filled seven railway wagons, each carrying 2,400 55-pound bags of flour-enough for some 132,000 loaves of bread. This supply could last through 2004. NCC/CWS member denominations raised the money to send this shipment. Since the outbreak of the food crisis in 1996, the value of food aid provided by CWS to North Korea totals close to $4.5 million.

In addition, Rick Corsino, the World Food Program Country Director, and Umberto Greco of the WFP's NGO Office briefed the delegation on the food shortage and the general humanitarian situation. Both officials expressed deep concern about the decline in the quantity of international assistance, with Corsino encouraging the global community to respond generously to the United Nations $200 million Consolidated Appeal that was announced November 15, 2000.

Challenges Continue

For the delegation, a sobering visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmumjom brought home the tragedy of the Korean division, which has resulted in the separation of an estimated 10 million family members.

"The high-tech security and the ubiquitous modern military surveillance technology-as American and North Korean soldiers stand eye-ball to eye-ball across this ideological divide-were a sharp reminder that the Korean War has not, in fact, ended. Equally sobering to us was the North Korean understanding of the role that the U.S. played in creating and perpetuating the division," says CWS Senior Advisor Victor Hsu, who is one of the delegates.

The delegation also had an opportunity to meet with Vice Chairman Kim Young Dae of the Supreme People's Assembly, the third-ranking person in the North Korean government. The group exchanged views on U.S.-North Korean relations, the prospects for the Six-Party Talks on the nuclear issue, improvements in Inter-Korean relations and the continuing and deepening humanitarian crisis.

By far, the highlight of the trip for each member of the delegation was the visit to the Protestant Chigul Church of Pyongyang and a North Korean house church located on Tong-Il Road in Pyongyang's Nangnang district. The KCF had arranged these two weekday encounters at the request of the delegation. Even as challenges continue, the delegation was "filled with thanksgiving" as the members prayed and sang hymns together with their Korean brothers and sisters. They shared words of encouragement and comfort to each other and pledged their common commitment to peace and the reunification of Korea.

The delegation continues meetings this week with South Korean President Roh Moon-Hyeon and the Minister of Reunification as well as with the National Council of Churches in Korea.

In response to an invitation from the Department of State, members of the delegation will provide a briefing to Assistant Secretary James Kelley on November 26. In June, U.S. and South Korean ecumenical leaders held talks with high officials at the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council about the serious political and humanitarian situation on the peninsula; this briefing will serve as a follow-up and update to those conversations.

Members of the NCC/CWS Delegation

In addition to Dr. Edgar and the Rev. McCullough, delegation members included:

· Brian Grieves, Officer for Peace and Justice Ministries of The Episcopal Church, New York City;

· Mervin Keeney, Executive Director Global Mission Partnerships, Church of the Brethren, Elgin, Ill.;

· Victor Hsu, Senior Advisor to the Church World Service Executive Director, New York City;

· Sara Lisherness, Coordinator, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, Ky., and

· Zhu Xiaoling, Area Executive for East Asia and the Pacific, Global Ministries, United Church of Christ/Wider Church Ministries Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)/Division of Overseas Ministries/ Cleveland, Ohio.

National Council of Churches USA is the nation's leading ecumenical organization, comprising 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member churches, which, in turn, count 50 million adherents in 140,000 local congregations.

Church World Service is the global humanitarian ministry of these 36 denominations, providing sustainable self-help and development, disaster relief, and refugee assistance in partnership worldwide.