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Southern Baptist aid arrives in North Korea


PYONGYANG, North Korea (BP)–About 114 tons of aid from Southern Baptists — including some 70,000 children’s coats donated between Thanksgiving and Christmas — arrived in Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, late Jan. 18.
Borne on the world’s largest air cargo plane, the aid
was unloaded immediately. Coats were distributed to children
whom officials feared would freeze to death this winter
without protection from bitter temperatures sometimes
dipping to 4 degrees below zero.
North Korean officials said children under 12 were at
risk in the throes of an extended famine that has left them
weakened and malnourished. They asked Southern Baptists for
up to 180,000 children’s coats and various medicines.
Because of increased giving to Southern Baptist human
needs funds — including special gifts of $70,000 from Texas
Baptist Men and $25,000 from the Georgia Baptist Convention
— the Southern Baptist International Mission Board bought
25,000 additional children’s coats from Asia and began
shipping them into North Korea, said Bill Cashion, IMB
consultant for human needs.
Cashion was part of a Southern Baptist delegation that
arrived in Pyongyang Jan. 12 to meet with North Korean
officials and was still in the country when the aid shipment
arrived. He spent one full day helping deliver coats to
needy children before returning to the United States.
He saw tall skyscrapers lit by candles and without
heat. In one bitter-cold schoolroom he visited, he shot
videotape of schoolchildren waving and greeting him. As soon
as he put down the camera, the entire group began hacking
and coughing. “The coats and medicines we are bringing will
literally save these children’s lives,” he said.
The IMB chartered a Ukrainian-built Antonov AN-124,
formerly designed as a Soviet military craft, to airlift the
coats plus 10 tons of antibiotics, anti-diarrhea medicine
and vitamins, 21 tons of corn, and 39 tons — or 2 million
servings — of dehydrated soup mix.
Late last year, Southern Baptists from throughout the
United States responded almost instantly to a “Coats for
Christmas” drive sponsored by the IMB, Woman’s Missionary
Union and North American Mission Board. The request came
from North Korean officials through John LaNoue, director of
adult ministries for Texas Baptist Men, who spent three
months last year traveling throughout the country. LaNoue
arrived with Cashion to meet with North Korean officials.
More than 40,000 coats were collected during the first
wave of the effort, which ended just before Christmas. But
when the IMB learned it could not transport the coats into
North Korea as quickly as hoped, Southern Baptist churches
were asked to extend their collection time through Dec. 29.
They sent the coats to temporary centers set up around the
country, which in turn shipped them to Houston, headquarters
for United States operation of the Antonov.
Flooding and other natural disasters in recent years
devastated farmland and triggered a catastrophic food
shortage in North Korea, sending the country into an
economic tailspin and leaving hundreds of thousands of
people teetering on the brink of starvation. Many people are
too weak to resist sickness.
“Southern Baptists have felt the heart cry of this
people, and they’ve heard the still, small voice of our
God,” said Cashion. Stories from throughout the nation bear
this out.
Don and Barbara Rhoads, of Hollister, Mo., heard the
voice of God stirring their hearts last spring.
“I had seen a program on volunteerism and wanted to do
something,” Don Rhoads recalled. “We just felt the Lord
leading us to” buy children’s coats. “We didn’t know what we
were going to do with them; we just felt led to buy them.”
The couple had 36 coats when they heard about the
project for North Korea.
“We realize this is why we were collecting them,”
Barbara Rhoads said. “I just know in my heart that this is
something (God) wanted us to do.”
Coats came in boxes and bags from 37 states, including
from as far away as Alaska. Another shipment was sent
airmail from Canada.
In meetings with North Korean officials, Cashion agreed
to future involvement in the country, including sending a
friendship basketball team of high school players to tour
the country and schedule games; collecting 80,000 more
children’s coats for next winter; and providing about 6
million pounds of food as part of an 8 million pound
shipment of food by boat in April.

    About the Author

  • Marty Croll