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
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
"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.