Evangelist Franklin Graham has a rich family history in North Korea. His mother, Ruth Graham, attended high school in Pyongyang in the 1930’s. His father, Billy Graham, visited the communist country in 1992 and 1994. Franklin Graham has also made four humanitarian trips to the North while leading Samaritan’s Purse in a variety of campaigns to help the North Korean people.
This engagement has led him to speak directly with President Trump on several occasions about North Korea, urging him to pay attention.
“This conflict needs to be settled,” he in an interview Tuesday. “I’m 65 years old so my entire life we’ve basically been at war with North Korea.”
SEE OUR VIDEO BELOW OF BILLY GRAHAM IN NORTH KOREA
Does Graham think the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un helped? He says he’s “very optimistic” about it.
Graham believes the North Koreans are a prideful people and that the Trump administration has engaged them well.
“The North Koreans just want to be shown respect and other administrations brushed them off like they were nothing,” he said.
Graham also believes that the summit will begin to ease the North Korean government’s persecution of Christians.
David Curry, a religious freedom advocate and the president of Open Doors USA, says that “Christians are considered the number one enemies of the state in North Korea.” He said the government views their faith in God and not Kim Jong Un as a challenge.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2018 report ranks North Korea as a “Tier One” country. The situation remains especially alarming for Christians living under North Korea’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Examples of North Korea’s atrocious persecution of Christians given by IRD International Religious Liberty Program Director Faith J.H. McDonnell include:
- A former DPRK prison guard testifying before Congress confirmed the regime’s intense hatred for Christians. In one incident he recounted a woman, in prison because she was a Christian, was kicked repeatedly and left for days because a prison guard overheard her praying for a child (Yes, children are in prison camps because the regime imprisons three generations of a family for the transgression of one member.)
- In prison factories, guards poured molten steel on Christians to kill them because believing in God instead of Kim Il-sung was the biggest crime in the eyes of the officials.
- The 2004 BBC documentary Access to Evil interviewed several defectors, former prison officials, who revealed that North Korea conducts deadly experiments on prisoners with gas chambers and chemicals. They indicated that those prisoners the regime considered “enemies of the state,” particularly Christians, were selected for the experiments. The former prison camp official watched a Christian family die in the gas chamber, with parents trying to shield their children from the fumes to the very end.
It is that regime that the Trump administration is trying to reach with a message of peace, and acceptance of Christians.
Graham says that he has hope that the government will begin to view believers differently.
“I want the communist government to know that Christians are not their enemies,” he said. “They have the potential of being the very best citizens in the country because God commands all of us to pray for those that are in authority.”
Open Doors estimates that the North Korean government is holding at least 50,000 Christians in prison camps. It has ranked North Korea as the #1 most dangerous place to be a Christian on its World Watch List for the last 17 years. Estimates put the entire Christian population at just over 400,000 people.
“Few American Christians lose sleep over their fellow Christians in North Korea – if they even know they exist,” says McDonnell. “Perhaps American Christians don’t know that the same regime that threatened to turn the United States into a pile of ash turns its own wretched citizens who die in political prison camps into piles of ash? It then uses them as fertilizer. In that appalling action, North Korea demonstrates one way in which it wipes out the very existence of Christians, as well as other political prisoners.
McDonnell says that while U.S. Christian organizations like the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals have ignored the plight of Christians in North Korea and focused on a pacifistic approach to the summit, those who track North Korea’s human rights abuses approached the summit as an opportunity to help the country’s Christians, and indeed, all of the beleaguered citizens of the DPRK.
“We urge the Trump Administration to follow the example of President Ronald Reagan who rightly linked the advancement of human rights, including religious freedom, with nuclear disarmament,” she said.
“Barring divine intervention, only a drastic, verifiable change in the way that Kim Jong-un treats his own people, including the so-called ‘hostiles,’ the Christians, may indicate the possibility of North Korea ending its own hostility towards the free world.”
Wooding, 77, the founder of the ASSIST News Service is hopeful but says in any negotion with North Korea, the plight of the country’s Christians must be forefront.
“There are thousands of believers in appalling labor camps inside the Hermit Kingdom, and it would be great if President Trump could get them freed and also speak out on behalf of the millions of other Christians who are forced to meet in secret,” said Wooding.
The journalist also shared that there are even “underground believers” who each Sunday, take shovels into the country side, dig a hole, and literally hold their worship services underground.
Wooding also talked about how, near the end of his life, North Korean founder, Kim Il-sung, began to recall his childhood when his Christian mother would sit him on her lap and teach him the Bible.
“Billy Graham once told me how, during a visit to North Korea, that Kim told him that he would having dreams about this and asked him to share more about having a relationship with Jesus, and even allowed him to preach the Gospel on North Korean Television,” he said. ”Mr. Graham told me that he would not be surprised to see Kim Il-sung in heaven.”
Wooding then said that maybe even Kim Il-sung may have shared about Jesus with his grandson.
In 1992, the staunchly anti-communist Billy Graham was invited to Pyongyang as an honored guest of North Korea’s late President Kim Il Sung.
It’s not exactly clear why he was invited but at the time of Graham’s first visit to North Korea, the nation was reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and looking to improve ties with the United States.
Graham’s gift for North Korea’s founder: a bible. It was a simple but extraordinary gesture.
His son, Franklin, continues his concern for North Korea but says American leaders need to listen carefully or they may miss what may be this last opportunity to open up the country.
“I think the North Koreans have been wanting to talk to the Americans for a long time and this is the first administration that they’ve been able to talk to directly like this,” the evangelist said.