Clean Water…A Walk in Their Shoes

David Syren

Contributed by: David Syren, Firefighter/paramedic with the Anchorage Fire Department (Ret.) and CFK technical volunteer.

We all have events in our lives that grab our attention, challenge the status quo, and change us forever.   Sometimes, it comes simply by taking a walk in someone else’s shoes, even briefly. 

In the spring of 2010, I returned home to Alaska from a visit to North Korea not feeling very well.  Having traveled there many times before with CFK to volunteer on various technical projects, I knew that in spite of being careful, it was not unusual to suffer from an upset stomach and indigestion.  This can linger a bit upon returning to the US, but usually a few days of rest and familiar food puts one back on track and running strong.  This time it was not to be.  After a couple of weeks at home, I was still not doing well, so I started on a course of antibiotics.  When, after a few more days, I was still sick, I knew I needed further tests.  I soon learned I was infected with the parasite giardia lamblia.  Alaska has a lot of this water-born parasite from beavers; many hunters, hikers and campers are exposed by drinking contaminated water during recreational activities, but even as a life-long Alaskan who is often in the wild, I had never suffered from this before and so it was a whole new miserable experience.  The doctor prescribed Flagyl, the drug of choice for this ailment, and I started feeling better after about a week of treatment.  Unfortunately, the normal dosage wasn’t strong enough, or taken long enough to cure the problem, so I relapsed (twice more, over the summer).  It wasn’t until just before I was scheduled to return on the Fall technical trip with CFK that I started to feel like myself again.

  Being sick with giardia was miserable – something I hope never to repeat.  Over 5 months, I lost 23 pounds (from my usual 135-pound frame) from a parasite that many North Koreans have to live with while struggling under far more stressful daily living conditions.  Like them, it wasn’t like I could just crawl in bed and wait to get better.  Life goes on with its work, projects, schedules, visitors and adventures – especially during our beautiful, yet short daylight-around-the-clock Alaska summers.  At least it was summer, so I didn’t have to stumble around in the cold and dark getting to the outhouse – often. 

I can’t imagine exposure to giardia without diagnosis or medicine for treatment, and many other contaminates abound in North Korea besides giardia that result in terrible suffering as well.  Yet opportunities for change in North Korea are present.  Some good water wells have been drilled, and many more are needed.  One water project CFK completed at an outlying rest home and rural village took water from a pure spring source and protected it, installing a full gravity-powered system down to the village and rest home that resulted in virtual elimination of patient and community GI disorders that year alone. 

I have seen time and time again how God multiplies the talents and resources provided through CFK so that many people there are helped and blessed in many permanent and life changing ways.  We serve a Creator who is still creating, giving, forgiving, healing, and transforming.  He loves His creation and longs to be known by each person alive today in every corner of the world, including North Korea.  It is toward this end that we labor through CFK in North Korea to show God’s love and, if possible, to share the Good News personally with those we meet along the way.  In a certain way CFK is not so much leading the way for change along an existing path on foreign soil, but rather it has been granted a unique opportunity to forge a new trail in very difficult terrain fraught with many obstacles and dangers.  It is this amazing opportunity that compels me to labor for Christ, within His care and keeping, in North Korea.

 

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If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

— Bible, 1 John 3:18
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