Franklin Graham Meets with High-Level North Korean Official

( [email protected] ) Oct 15, 2009 11:26 AM EDT
U.S. Evangelist Franklin Graham had a "friendly conversation" Wednesday with North Korea's foreign minister, the reclusive nation's news agency reported.
In this Korean Central News Agency photo released by Korea News Service in Tokyo on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009, Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of veteran evangelist Billy Graham, left, is greeted by Kim Yong Dae, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea, as Graham paid a courtesy call on Kim at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009. The American brought one of the first shipments of U.S. aid to the country in months (Photo: Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)

U.S. Evangelist Franklin Graham had a "friendly conversation" Wednesday with North Korea's foreign minister, the reclusive nation's news agency reported.

Graham, who heads the international relief agency Samaritan's Purse, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday in an effort by the Christian leader “to help improve better relations and to have better understanding" between United States and North Korea.

"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," the evangelist said before departing.

According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Graham held talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun on Wednesday and offered a gift to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il through the country's vice parliamentary speaker.

Footage of the meeting between Graham and speaker Kim Yong Dae showed the evangelist handing over a small, black sculpture of a man riding a horse. It also showed Graham later visiting a provincial hospital in the countryside where his organization, in conjunction with USAID, installed a power generator. According to Graham’s publicists, the generator is providing electrical power to an area where none previously existed.

Graham’s visit this week marks the third time the evangelical leader has entered 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.

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 this past 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.

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.

Graham, whose relief organization has been working in North Korea since the 1997, has a long history in the communist country, going back to 1934 when his mother, the late Ruth Bell Graham, attended a mission school in Pyongyang. His father, world renowned evangelist Billy Graham, visited the reclusive country in 1992 and 1994, meeting with then-President Kim Il Sung, who led North Korea from its founding in 1948 until his death.

Last year, Graham visited North Korea to oversee several aid operations and to preach at a newly constructed Protestant church in Pyongyang.

This year, the evangelist planned to present equipment and supplies valued at $190,000 for a new dental center being built in Pyongyang. He also planned to visit his ministries' humanitarian assistance projects through which more than $10 million in assistance has been provided.

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.

His Christian relief organization had similarly chartered a 747 cargo jet to deliver $8.3 million in medicine and other emergency supplies in response to devastating floods in North Korea two years ago.

According to Samaritan’s Purse, that was the first private flight directly from the United States to North Korea since the Korean War.