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 health. 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.