National Lutheran News

U.S. Lutherans ministering in Korea

When North Korea’s government re-cently pledged to drop its nuclear weapons development and rejoin international arms treaties, there was more than a little interest by a couple living in the Twin Cities suburb of Arden Hills.

The Rev. Dr. Maynard and Shirley Dorow retired to Arden Hills in 1998 after 40 years work in Korea. The Dorows’ history in Korea dates back to 1958 when they were sent with a mission team from the U.S. by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Early mission work concentrated on evangelism through radio and literature. A theological training program was started in 1966. By 1983 the school moved to a site in Shingahl, south of Seoul. The school now offers both theology and social welfare majors at undergraduate and graduate levels as it continues its mission of training workers for service to the church and society.

Dr. Dorow was the first chancellor of what is now called Luther University and Seminary. And, the Dorows return to South Korea for several weeks each year so he can teach a course at the school. Given their years of work there, the Dorows are concerned for the well-being of all Koreans.
The couple says some regions of northern North Korea are particularly impoverished today. They noted that, traditionally, South Korea grew rice and North Korea produced power, commodities which the two areas exchanged. Then came the Korean War.

In more recent times, North Korea got along due to aid from the former Communist U.S.S.R. and China propping it up. That disappeared in the mid 1990s.

North Korea’s traditional power-generating capacity fell into disrepair as the country spent 32% of its gross domestic product on its military. The Dorows said that on a 2003 visit to the capital city of Pyong-yang, North Korea, their hotel room had “just one light bulb and the power was turned off at 9 p.m.”

Northern provinces are in worse shape. The climate and mountainous terrain make growing food crops a challenge. Residents of these areas are malnourished and live in crowded conditions, making them susceptible to the spread of tuberculosis.

So, the ability to produce food and provide better nutrition is a prime concern, followed by medical needs for the many TB hospitals. Even blankets are needed for hospital patients because there’s little heat in those buildings.
Through a ministry called Christian Friends of Korea, the Dorows were able to make their 2003 visit to North Korea. The Communist government welcomes the aid the group
provides, but visitors are closely watched throughout their time in the country. While there, the Dorows observed ubiquitous radios tuned to government-controlled programming. Interestingly, “the radios have volume controls but no on/off switch.” The attempt is to assure mind control.

The two Koreas have a total land area of 85,428 square miles compared to 84,402 square miles for the state of Minnesota. South Korea’s population is 48,300,000 and North Korea’s is 22,500,000. So, in a total land area similar to Minnesota there are 70 million people compared to about five million in Minnesota. And then there’s the fact that uninhabitable mountains make up 70-80% of the land area of the Korean peninsula.

In North Korea, religion has been effectively prohibited since the 1950s, though there are three “showcase” churches in Pyongyang. The Dorows believe they’re probably there “to impress visitors.” Lack of churches doesn’t mean that no one is worshiped. There are many signs with slogans, including one seen at Pyongyang General Hospital. It states, “The great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung is with us forever.”
The Dorows believe there’s a real opportunity to show Christian love and concern even under these adverse conditions. They’re serving as advisors to Christian Friends of Korea, a group which seeks to help the people in one impoverished northern province of the country. That organization is seeking help in meeting needs such as:

* High-yielding seed corn to provide to hungry farmers in mountainous areas.

* Soybeans for nourishing patients suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases.

* Funds for water well drilling.

* New mattresses, sheets and blankets for 1,500 beds.

* Basic diagnostic kits for physicians (While there are doctors, 500-800 kits are needed for them.).

* Replacement of ba-sic medical equipment.

Those interested in knowing more about this ministry of reaching out to people in a Communist country may call Dr. Dorow at 651/628-4934. He has displays and a slide show which document the needs. Additional information is also available at the Christian Friends of Korea web site: www.cfk.org.