Ruth Bell Graham Concludes Historic Return Trip To North Korea

Wife of World Evangelist Meets Protestant and Catholic Leaders, Government

Officials; Visits Local Church, Health and Children's Centers and University

in Pyongyang

Sep 26, 1997, 01:00 ET from Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn.

    BEIJING, Sept. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- At the conclusion of an unprecedented
 six-day visit to the communist nation of North Korea, Ruth Bell Graham, wife
 of evangelist Billy Graham, summarized her experience as, "One of the true
 highlights of my life."
     "Almost nothing remains from my school days here during the 1930s," she
 commented to her hosts. "But two things have not changed: the beauty of the
 two rivers that flow through the city of Pyongyang and the warmth and
 hospitality of the Korean people." Mrs. Graham, who was born in China of
 missionary parents, attended the Pyongyang Foreign School during her high
 school years. During Korea's cold winters, she recounted, she and her
 classmates often ice skated on Pyongyang's frozen rivers.
     Mrs. Graham's invitation to North Korea was originally extended by the
 East Asian nation's late founder, President Kim Il Sung, during visits made by
 Billy Graham and the Grahams' younger son, Ned. Her official host was the
 Korean Christians Federation, which oversees the work of the nation's tiny
 Protestant community. Mrs. Graham also met with the leadership of the Korean
 Catholics Association, which includes people of Catholic background but does
 not have official ties with the Vatican.
     She also spoke briefly at the Sunday morning service in Pyongyang's Bongsu
 Church, one of three churches open in North Korea. "My years in Korea were
 very important to me spiritually," she recalled to the congregation. "I pray
 that each one of you will know -- as I discovered during my school days here
 -- that God so loved you, that he gave his only begotten Son, that if you
 would believe in him, you will not perish, but will have everlasting life,"
 she said, paraphrasing John 3:16, which had been the minister's text for the
 morning sermon.
     Mrs. Graham was accompanied by her younger son, Ned, who is president of
 East Gates Ministries International, a Seattle-based Christian organization
 which has provided aid to North Korea during the nation's present food
 emergency. The Graham's oldest daughter, Virginia (Gigi) Graham Tchividjian,
 also accompanied her mother.
     A highlight of the trip was a dinner given in Mrs. Graham's honor by the
 country's Foreign Minister, Kim Yong Nam. "We have great respect for the
 Graham family, and especially Billy Graham, who met our late President on two
 occasions," he noted in welcoming her. "We know your health kept you from
 coming here in the past and we are honored you would undertake such a long and
 difficult journey to be with us." Foreign Minister Kim also extended the
 greetings of the late President Kim Il Sung's son, Kim Jong Il, who presently
 leads the nation.
     The dinner menu included a number of traditional Korean dishes which Mrs.
 Graham recalled from her school years in Pyongyang.  The Foreign Minister also
 complimented Ned Graham and Gigi Graham Tchividjian on their love and respect
 for their parents.  "I have been discouraged during my travels to see the way
 children in some countries treat their parents," he remarked sadly.
     Unexpectedly Mrs. Graham also was able to fulfill a desire she had had
 ever since her school days in North Korea: a visit to Korea's famed Diamond
 Mountains, only a few kilometers from the Demilitarized Zone separating North
 Korea and South Korea.  "We were never able to go there when I was in high
 school because of the distance, although I always wanted to, because I had
 heard it is one of the most beautiful places on earth," she said.  She
 mentioned this to one of her hosts -- and two days later a North Korean
 helicopter whisked the Graham party to an airport on Korea's east coast, where
 they were then driven into the heart of the national park containing the
 Diamond Mountains.
     "This is surely one of the most spectacular places in the world," she said
 as she gazed at range after range of jagged peaks outlined against the
 brilliant blue sky.  "I hope some day more people from around the world can
 share in their beauty."
     Mrs. Graham's visit, however, was far more than a nostalgic return to a
 country she had not seen since 1937, when she left to come to the United
 States for college.  Much of her time was spent learning about the problems
 North Korea is facing because of the devastating floods and drought which have
 plagued the nation the past few years.  Government officials from the Flood
 Damage Relief Committee - the North Korean government's main emergency agency
 - briefed Mrs. Graham on the famine which confronts the nation after three
 consecutive years of natural disasters.  She also visited a children's center
 in Pyongyang which cares for small children who have lost their parents.  Some
 of them had been sent to the center from famine areas to restore them to
     She also met patients at a local tuberculosis diagnostic center, and while
 there helped dedicate a modern X-ray unit donated by Samaritan's Purse, which
 is headed by the Grahams' older son, Franklin.  "This unit has been given
 because of our faith in Christ, and because of our family's love for the
 Korean people," Ned Graham told the officials accompanying the group.
     Until recently tuberculosis was on the decline in North Korea, the Vice
 Minister of Health told Mrs. Graham as she toured the facility, but due to the
 famine, tuberculosis cases have been increasing.
     One day the party visited the nation's leading educational institution,
 Kim Il Sung University, to meet a group of students who are majoring in
 English.  They were obviously delighted at the rare opportunity to meet people
 whose first language is English, and the meeting went well over the scheduled
 time as the students and their guests carried on a lively discussion.  They
 were particularly fascinated to learn that Gigi Graham Tchividjian is a writer
 with a number of books to her credit.  Later, several books written by various
 Graham family members (including Billy Graham) were presented to the
 university for the use of students studying English.
      "You will never know how much your visit has meant to us," one church
 leader told Mrs. Graham at the conclusion of the trip.  "Please do not forget
 to pray for us."  "We certainly will," Mrs. Graham responded.  "When we truly
 know Christ, no matter where we live we are all members of the same family --
 the family of God."

SOURCE Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn.