|Q: What is the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Relief (LCMS-WR)?|
We focus on 2 main areas: emergency assistance and sustainable development. The disaster emergency assistance [program] covers the US and the world. Some of our recent work has involved typhoon relief work, and, in the US, flood assistance. In Kobe, Japan, when you had the earthquake, we were able to send financial support through the churches.
We also are partners with the Lutheran World Relief (LWR) organization in New York which is a pan-Lutheran organization. It receives its financial support from LCMS-WR and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). They also receive some government support. Their programs are strictly overseas and they work with NGOs only, so they are not involved with evangelism, church planting and leadership training. It's a wonderful organization and we're very happy to be working with them.
|Q: Do you sometimes cooperate with them in New York, or is some of your staff dedicated to that work in NY?|
Beside myself, we also have some board members. The LWR's board is made up of a board from the LCMS and the ELCA, so they have members and financing from both groups. The ELCA has its own internal world relief programs in addition to the support it gives to LWR in NY.
When we work overseas with our missionaries and partner churches, we work directly with them. We have 70 to 100 projects that we fund directly out of St. Louis, separate from our work with LWR.
In our work inside the US, we give grants to Lutheran Congregations and Lutheran social service agencies so they can be holistic. What I mean by holistic is that we respond to the physical needs of people at the same time as spiritual needs. That's what we can do in our mission partnership program as well as in our grants in the US.
On this trip, one of the things I'm doing is visiting various places where we already have projects with missionaries and partner churches. I'm also talking about new projects that we haven't yet started. A new one will be in Yunnan province of China, a water project. In talking with the people [we've found] it's something they need. We'll be working with the China Christian Council (CCC) and eventually hope to form a relationship with them to help them with leadership training, because they need seminary training very badly. So that would be an example of a new project that will happen because of my visit.
|Q: What do you mean by "badly needed training?" Why do they need it?|
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In China, the pastors are older and Christianity has not been able to really have a high profile, and even now there is some reluctance on the part of the government to completely give freedom. So what we want to do is help the Christian community build credibility with the government by doing humanitarian projects such as the water project, or a medical clinic in a church. By first doing that, [later, when we move to do] leadership training the government will be more receptive to it.
|Q: Is a humanitarian relationship with the government possible?|
We're very careful to choose a partner who has good credibility and has a good relationship with the government, because we don't want to get into problems with national governments. We want to enter a country through the front door and do everything legally and still accomplish getting the gospel out.
|Q: In November the top of the CCC sent a letter to "friends of the church in China" stating that its relationship with the International mission Board of theSouthern Baptist Convention, USA, has "gotten into difficulty". How will you work with the CCC?|
Our past history has been with the Amity Foundation in China and we've had a lot of good success with the projects. [The projects] have really developed the way they're supposed to and this will be new for us to work with the CCC, and so were doing this a little bit at a time to see how that relationship goes. We're trying to focus on Yunnan Province. In that province there are 26 tribal groups and we think that, first of all, the tribal groups are very poor and the government doesn't pay a lot of attention to them. Many of them are Christian already, so if we can work with these Christians that have relatives in other countries, then that's 26 people groups we could reach by working there. So this is kind of a new area for us.
|Q: Do you expect this plan to go smoothly or did you just talk about it this time??|
Well, we talked about it and now they are putting it in writing and mailing it to me in St. Louis [at the LCMS-WR office]. Then we hope to be able to approve it and we'll send funds in January. This project has not yet been approved, though I am very hopeful.
There is an older project, The House of Living Water in Thailand, and we want to continue that program but we're doing an evaluation to see if that can be improved in any way. (see the Asia Lutheran, Dec. 1995, pps. 3-5)
|Q: What about the status of that project?|
The program is fine, it's just getting older and more mature, and there are more options for us. The program needs to have its own board. One of the things that will happen is that program will have a working committee and they'll create a board who will make an evaluation-- make the recommendations of any future changes or directions.
But this whole trip actually started because of an invitation from North Korea. The invitation came from the Korean Christian Federation and they hosted us. The delegation included 10 people representing the Jewish faith, Catholics, and from LWR, Jonathan Frerichs came. He is the communications person in New York. Another person, also from LWR, was a board member and bishop from the ELCA in NY, Rev. Howard Wennes, and myself, because of our partnership with LWR. Not only had LCMS-WR given our partnership money to LWR, but also we had given an additional US $55,000 for North Korea. And, LWR knew I had a big interest in North Korea. So we went in from the 5th to the 8th of November and the 10 of us represented US $2.5 million in aid that had been distributed in the past year and a half. What we were doing was seeing what kind of success there was and if there were other things we should be doing. The money came from the 3 groups: Jewish, Catholic and LWR. The distribution [of funds] went through the Korean Christian Federation, the UN's World Food Program, and it was channeled and monitored in various ways.
When we first arrived we had a lot of expectations and we were really excited and happy to be there. The Korea Christian Federation had people whom met us at the airport and took us in their vehicles. First we made a stop at a very large statue of Kim Il Sung and it was very much like going to church - we were expected to be very reverent, to bow and to present flowers. There was music playing. There was a delegation of Japanese-Koreans behind our group who also did the same, so I thought that this was typical for visitors to North Korea. We assumed that we would quickly be allowed to go into the countryside and see the distribution, see the people who had needs and so forth.
|Q: What areas did you get into?|
Well, that became a problem. In the beginning all we saw was Pyongyang. We would be asking questions and they were very nice about taking us places. We saw many monuments- you know the Juche (self-defiance) Tower with the flame on top, and the Arch d' Triumph showing the Japanese leaving Korea. So every time we got into the car we thought, 'Oh we're going to see some people and talk to them,' but every time we'd go to another monument. So finally we said we really do need to see some people, and once again they took us to see another monument.
This time it was the mausoleum. The National Palace has been converted into a mausoleum and they are bringing all the people from the country by bus to view the body of Kim Il Sung in State. He has been embalmed under glass, so we all visited and did all that. But we kept pressing to see something other than monuments and they took us to Nampo. So we thought, 'Oh good we're leaving the city, so that means we get to talk to people,' but we actually ended up at another monument. It was a large dam across the mouth of the Taedong River. It's about 8 kilometers long and there was a video with Kim Il Sung talking about how wonderful this was and how wonderful he was.
But on the way back we asked to stop and talk with some people we saw harvesting cabbage. That was our first contact with ordinary people. They were harvesting rice and cabbage by hand. None of the farm machinery worked-partly because they had no fuel. So it was very labor intensive with a lot of people involved. The military people we saw were not carrying guns, they were carrying shovels and hand tools over their shoulders. Everyone, including the school children and military, were out harvesting-what there was to harvest. The harvest was not necessarily that good but it was time, and because it had to all be done by hand, it took everyone working together.
In addition to that, we saw a lot of people gleaning. It reminded me of Ruth in the Bible, where the women would be in the field picking up individual grains of rice and small pieces of straw. It looked like there was nothing in the fields. The school children were doing the same thing. I admire the self-reliance and the way everyone works so hard. They say 'they don't want to show their hands,' in other words, they don't want to beg for food. They would much rather be able to do it themselves, but they really can't.
Then when we went back to the city we felt a little bit better because we were starting to see some of the countryside. And the next time they put us in the car, they said they would take us to a hospital. We thought we'd be able to see some patients. It was a maternity hospital in Changnyon. It's a very large, wonderful and beautiful hospital. They have many doctors and had some equipment but very few patients, and I think that's because they have no medicine. I'm convinced there is no medicine. It's true.
After [visiting] that particular hospital they said they could take us to Mundok. It's is the area that was hit by the typhoon in August. They were very unwilling to talk about any problems they were having in the country, but they would talk about their disasters. They would talk about the hail they had, the floods, and this typhoon. So they took us to that area of the country and we walked around and it was obvious that the seawater had come in. So much of the land can't be used because of this tidal wave, it's full of salt. The rice that was growing in those fields was just left there, rotting. It's so salty its not good for anything. There were 94 dikes that were broken. Everyone living in that lowland had water in their houses. We talked to several families and one woman said she had eight meters of water over her house. And she said they were really not prepared. They had gotten a warning, but you never know how bad its going to be. So they had taken some things to higher ground, but they really weren't prepared for it. The community pitched in and helped clean out her home. And we had also helped in that community. We then visited a clinic in that area. We had distributed medicine to them through the Korea Christian Federation because it was a small enough shipment for them to handle. One of the big problems with distribution is trucks because they have a fuel shortage. The trains that I saw were not moving on the tracks because of the fuel shortage. The electric lights were not operating in the city of Pyongyang. They had people standing and directing traffic. The city itself of Pyongyang is very dark. We stayed at a hotel which has a revolving restaurant on the top floor, but it's not revolving and there are no lights. There's not a view any longer to see. But, the torch is still visible from the Juche Tower.
|Q: How was the food?|
We could eat at the hotel. There was food and a menu, and we had choices. Everyday they had a little bit different choices, but sometimes we would order something and it would be gone. By the last day that we were there, the only fresh fruit there was, was a little bit of apple in the morning, but that was gone by the end of our stay. They did have ice cream for a few days and again by the end it was gone. We asked if we could eat someplace else-there was a Japanese restaurant on the same street as the hotel. When we went there we were turned away and I think it was because there wasn't any food. They made sure that the hotel where the foreigners were had food.
|Q: How was the currency?|
The only thing that we used money for was at the hotel for our room and food. We changed our dollars into North Korean Won. There were a few gift shops there, but on the streets there were no stores open, there were no stands and no evidence of any private enterprise.
There is one other thing I didn't say about Mundok. We visited a very small clinic there and that clinic was very clean, but some of the window panes were missing. It needed painting, and in the pharmaceutical cabinets there were only one or two boxes of outdated medicines-10 or 15 years old, so they really had no medicine. They also are out of soap, so in order to scrub up and clean themselves [for surgery] they had basins in the room of carbolic acid. They washed their hands in the carbolic acid, that's all they have left. Without soap its difficult to keep things clean and sanitary; there is a higher risk of infection.
What started out to be problems with food, have turned into problems with health and medicine. The people are eating bark off the trees and corncobs ground up to make the rice go farther and fill up their stomachs. They're starting to have gastric-intestinal problems, blockages, skin problems, and there is a new problem with water. They are not able to purify water because there are no chemicals, so there's a real concern that there could be cholera next summer. Right now the cold is going to help that. There's some evidence that there was typhoid outbreak. One Western doctor had the symptoms and diagnosed himself. Then later some of the government doctors came in and inoculated everyone for typhoid. No one ever admitted that there was typhoid, but we suspect there was. There seems to be downward spiral and we don't know where it's going to lead.
But as a group, we all decided that we felt confident that everything we were bringing in was being distributed well. If you take a map of North Korea and trace a capital letter I on it, the provinces outside that shape, we are able to visit. The UN is there, we have a Lutheran there who is on our payroll and has been connected to the World Food Program, so we know people, have talked to people who have been to all of these provinces. And they go there often enough to see the same person each time and that person is getting better. They're not really moving people around. So we feel that there is enough good being done. Our target is for children ages 7 to 0, older people and also children ages 15 to 7. So were trying to target those groups with good nutrition and medication and really make a difference for them.
|Q: Isn't it true that the government is trying to maintain the health of the soldiers?|
Our first priority is to keep our materials out of the hands of the government. We don't want it distributed that way, we want to work with the government.
|Q: Is that possible?|
We feel it is. Because of these people that are living there [in Korea] that work for us. They are really confident that the material is really being distributed well to the right people. And we, or they have seen enough evidence of improvement of health.
|Q: What's the plan in the future? Is this tour just for an evaluation?|
Well, we have all decided that we need to do at least as much as we have been doing, and maybe try to do more. Between what the harvest has brought in there, and if we all can maintain the same level of support among all the humanitarian groups, the prediction is that next spring people will be fine. But if they're going to make it past March, which is before the next harvest, then we're going to have to do even more than we have before and things are going to have to change. So those of us in our delegation of 10-we all agreed that we'll have to go back to the States and talk to our constituents and encourage people to be as supportive as they can during this period of time.
I think one of the biggest frustrations for all of us is that it is very much like talking to a cancer patient who doesn't admit to having cancer, but will talk about the broken leg. They were very quick to talk about disasters and emergencies. They'd talk about the floods, they'd talk about the typhoon and they'd say, 'well, yes we could use a little help with these emergencies', but they would not talk about or admit that they had problems as a country. They wouldn't admit that they had fuel shortages, water problems. We could help them-they have no fertilizer now so there crop yield is very small. We could help them with agricultural methods, with crop rotation, inter-cropping. There are a lot of things we could teach them in terms of sustainable development. But because they don't admit to the cancer, we can only help with the broken leg.
We feel limited. We feel like we could do more that would help for a longer period of time. So maybe by helping with the emergency, their "broken leg", we can build enough relationships that they will let us help them with some of their other problems.
|Q: In the future could you function as a channel for the Korea Christian Federation to work with?|
They want us to continue. The difficulty is that they are small [as an organization]. There are only about 12,000 Christians in North Korea. The Korea Christian Federation needs to build up credibility with the government, but when it comes to the actual distribution, if it's a large amount, they don't have the transportation. But we certainly want to continue to work with and support them.
|Q: What is your reaction towards the news in some international magazines as told by World Vision? They say children are starving in North Korea.?|
I'd rather not talk about other organizations. What we saw and were told leads us to believe that their may have been starving people early on, maybe last year or two years ago, but that those people who were borderline have either died or gotten better. One of the things that the North Korea government appears to do is to equalize starvation among everyone. In much the same way socialism spreads the resources in a country, they seem to spread the starvation. An example of that would be if we knew of a daycare center that had 40 children, we would deliver what they call "miracle milk" which is a special nutritious recipe of milk for 40 children that was supposed to last for 3 months. And we would say one liter of this "miracle milk" per three liters of water- that's the recipe- and we would leave that with them, and go back [to the day care center] at the end of three months. But they would have fed 60 children because more children came when they knew the food was available and so forth.
The difference, the three-month difference would not be as dramatic, but you would be able to see a change. And that's the kind of thing our people were reporting to us, that they should have seen more of a difference, but they definitely were at least seeing a difference. And that's our way of feeling they're equalizing [the starvation].
We asked the same questions. We said, 'how can you be sure that the military is not getting this?' Well, for one thing, they said the adults don't want the milk. It's not going to do them any good. And the kinds of things that they'd been delivering would not benefit the military. It was so targeted and so specific for [the children] that there was not so much danger. With many of our medical supplies, there were also inoculations. The kind you would give to small children. And so, there is less likelihood that they would be used by the military. But I really do think that they spread things out, they share what they have, which is part of the way they live.
|Q: Is there any danger of exploitation by the media in those countries which don't have access to correct information about what's happening inside North Korea?|
Yes, I think there's always a danger of exploiting people. I did not personally see any children with bad bones or sores or anything. I did talk with a Lutheran woman who is the wife of a Canadian who is working there. She is a nurse working for Unicef and she said that she did see children with sores from bad nutrition but that they were getting better. And I think the temptation for the journalist is always to look for the sensational, to try and get the picture on the front page of the newspaper and to try and make headlines. And I can't really blame the journalist because the journalist will write what people want to read and hear, and so the sensationalism is a way to generate a lot of following. It's partly to get the money, the attention, and I think that it also does a disservice to a people who are very proud and who have a lot of honor and integrity. They deserve some respect.
When I was in North Korea I had difficulty taking pictures, though not because they would stop me. They said, 'bring your cameras, take [pictures of] whatever you want.' It just didn't seem polite to take pictures, and yet I needed to take pictures to tell a story, so it was rather difficult. The only picture they would not let me take was of an ox. The ox was very fat and healthy. It looked like a classic old-fashioned picture. The ox was pulling an old-fashioned cart with big wooden wheels loaded with cabbages. Another one was loaded with rice. It was a wonderful harvest picture, but they said, 'no, it's not normal.' In other words they are used to using farm equipment and machinery. And because they can't use the machinery anymore, they are embarrassed that they have to use animals. And they didn't want that picture getting out. And the only reason I wanted to take that picture is that I love animals! I take animal pictures for myself, it was not for a newspaper, but they were very sensitive.
Now there was a family when we went to Mundok where they had the typhoon and tidal wave. I was talking to one woman there through an interpreter and I asked how old her child was and she said three years old. That child is the same size as my 16-month-old grandson. That to me is evidence of a lack of nutrition. So the children, according to the ages we were given, are smaller in stature than they should be even for what is normal in North Korea. But I can't say that I saw major distortion of the bones etc. And I think the effect of long-term poor nutrition and pre natal care for the mothers, and the lack of immunizations and antibiotics and so forth [adds to the problems].
|Q: What you said about showing respect is very important.|
Well, I remember that one of our workers in Korea was told, "We would like to repay you 10 times." It seems pretty genuine, their attitude. I respect that a lot, they're doing everything they can, working as hard as they can and its just not good enough. They don't want to ask but they're forced to. There is a lot of pride. It reminds me a little bit of our farmers in North Dakota; you know-where we have our floods now. Our farmers in North Dakota don't want to accept any help. If you ask them if they're O.K., they say "I'm fine." They've lost all their cattle in the winter blizzards, their land to the floods and they're going to lose their farms because of lack of money. But if you ask them, 'do you need anything?' they say no, but 'I think so-and-so down the road needs some help.' It's pride.
|Q: You mean we should respect those people who are receiving funds?|
Absolutely! We could find ourselves in a similar situation. It's not the fault of the farmers in North Korea for their situation, for not having fertilizer. I want to hold the government accountable, rather than the people who become victims. They've had no vote and no choices.
|Q: Is North Korea a big project for you at LCMS-WR? How about the rest of Asia?|
The emergency projects are in a different category than the sustainable development projects. For LCMS-WR we do not budget for emergencies because everything we have in our budget comes from individuals and groups. We don't have church money; we only have contributions. So when people give money to us they say, 'I want my money to go to Japan for the Kobe earthquake' or 'I want it to go to North Korea.' That's one of the things that determines how much emergency money is sent. We also have some general disaster funds, and up until now I've been sending general disaster funds to North Korea because our newspapers in the United States have not had a lot of information. It's true that the more publicity in the secular press, the more income we will have that we can use for assistance. In the US there was a lot of coverage for the earthquake in Kobe so there was more response than usual. That's why we were able to do more. But among our sustainable development projects, The House of Living Water in Thailand is probably the one we've been involved in the longest. We have some major projects in the Philippines also with health, water, agriculture, and this is again through LCMS-WR.
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|Q: How do you run the projects in the Philippines?|
Mostly through our missionaries there on the island of Mindanao. The missionaries have been operating those programs for us as part of their ministry. So, when pastor Don Tredmon can talk to people about having water in their villages, he can also say, 'we have Living Water for you in Jesus Christ.' So there is always that connection to the Gospel.
|Q: To recap, the three projects in the Philippines, Thailand and North Korea are your main projects? And then hopefully in Mainland China?|
Well, we also have other projects. Hong Kong will be another project. In Seoul, Korea, a congregation is going to come to us to ask for funds. We already have four projects in China in four areas. In Hong Kong, we want to help the Hong Kong Lutheran Social Services with the immigrants who are coming in from mainland China, most of them are women and children and they are being reunited with husbands and fathers. These children need to have day care, there are also family problems that can develop as they are having to move in with relatives. Or they are being reunited after a long time of living apart. The children need to learn English and catch up really fast because there is a lot of pressure in the schools in Hong Kong and English is something they wouldn't have had a lot of experience with. This is another project we are reviewing and I hope we will be able to fund it in January.
|Q: What is the project in Seoul, Korea?|
Well, it's probably too soon to say what that will be, but we are very interested in helping Lutheran congregations to be involved in their communities so they can respond to people in their physical needs. We really want people to ask two questions: 'Why are you doing this?' And we can tell them, 'because God loves us so much, He's blessed us so much that we are filled with this love and want to do this.' And then we want people to say, 'well, tell us more, who is this Jesus?' And once they ask that second question, it's a beautiful opportunity to do some teaching and have some Bible classes, and eventually some worship services.
|Q: So far we've heard about your donating funds or materials to churches. Is there any case where you would cooperate with them on a project in other places?|
What we intend is to offer only some startup funds, and in that sense to be a partner with a local church, which is one of the reasons why I always meet with the church body presidents and so on. The Lutheran Church HK Synod are interested in working in the mainland, so maybe there will be an opportunity for us to work with them. They have the expertise and the social workers so maybe we could work together. We're starting to talk about that. It would be a new partnership for us.
Another interesting thing that has happened, is that when we have emergencies in the United States, many of the countries that we have helped will send money to us at LCMS-WR for our own emergencies. Even African countries like Ghana, and France, Germany, and Japan have sent money to help us with our emergencies. So this partnership is really two way. Sometimes the money goes in both directions. But I think more importantly, more than the financing, by receiving [us], a group is offering us an opportunity to demonstrate our faith. It's a mutual, cooperative thing.
The expertise is local; the design of the project is local. We can't do that. All we are really offering is a little financial boost. The real work is being done locally by the project and that's where the strength of it lies.
|Q: How long have you been traveling?|
I left on October 31 and I'll be back in the office in St. Louis on Dec. 1st. First I went to Beijing to get a visa. Then we went to North Korea and back to Beijing. From Beijing I went to to Kunmin City in Yunnan Province, and then into the countryside. Then back to Beijing, and on to Seoul, Bangkok, Changmai, Hong Kong and here [Tokyo].
|Q: Do you have a project in Changmai?|
No, but there is a project like The House of Living Water and we wanted to look at why that project was effective, its strengths and weaknesses, and talk to the director of that program to see if there were any recommendations for us.
|Q: Do you have world relief projects only in those countries where you stopped?|
No, we have other projects in India, the Philippines...but I didn't stop there on this trip. In Papua New Guinea we have many projects, both emergency and sustainable through the Gutenius Lutheran Church-PNG. Also, through the missionaries and the Emanuel District Hospital-we have a lot of medical work there.
|Q: Do the projects you are supporting receive funds from other agencies and do you communicate with each other?|
Usually on the projects that LCMS-WR funds, we are the primary donors. Smaller groups that provide funds usually don't work that way. Now for the LWR the case is different. It is part of the Lutheran World Federation and related agencies, so in those cases there are multiple funding sources and that is a different arena. They do talk to each other. In Eritrea a new country next to Ethiopia, they have a long history with the LWF and they also have now received their first project from us because I am connected to the LWR. I can talk to them about what is happening in Eritrea and feel confident that there is no double funding of projects. It's all fitting together. In most cases we have a contact to work with.
|Q: Do you have a screening process for your applicants?|
There are some leaders who are effective in that they ask many groups for money. We have to encourage them to tell us on our application. We always ask from where are you getting your funds, so we could see that information. If we see that they have many partners, we may not give them as much. On the other hand, I don't like to be the only one investing in a project either. At the very least, we want the applicants to invest in the project themselves.
|Q: What's your future direction?|
One of the things that intrigues me about Asia is that there are many countries like Japan which have relatively more resources than other countries, say for example Africa. At LCMS-WR, one of the things we want to encourage is for countries in Asia which have a strong economic base like Japan or South Korea to share within Asia, their ideas and resources. I think Asia has so much potential as a world area that it's very unique. I would like to see that kind of exchange between Asian countries.
|Q: There is not so much exchange between countries because of a lack of information.|
I understand. There has already been some sharing between the Lutheran church in Japan and in Korea, and there will probably be more of that sharing.
|Q: Is there anything else you wanted to add about your trip? Do you want to say anything about changes in Hong Kong after the Handover?|
Well I think there is only the one issue with the new immigrants coming into Hong Kong- it's causing some pressure. And the government is responding by limiting the number of immigrants to 150 per day. That is going to put a stress on their resources within Hong Kong, especially now with the currency fluctuations and [decreasing currency] values that is hitting all of Asia. At first glance, I didn't think there were any changes, but as I was there longer there were more questions about how long the government in Hong Kong can maintain these homes for the elderly. The buildings need repair and I know the government is not repairing them. My biggest questions would be with the social programs' funding [and stability].
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