Category: Blog

True early Thanksgivings…in Sariwon and Changyon…

Changyon Feast For Web

CFK Volunteers enjoy a feast on the beach with the North Korean staff at Changyon TB Rest Home.


The idea of sharing in a feast in North Korea somehow just doesn’t sound right on the face of things.   Doesn’t North Korea’s population suffer from widespread malnutrition? Hasn’t food and hydropower production been greatly affected by a lack of rainfall this year? Don’t they still have serious food shortages?

The answer to all of these questions is YES – which makes what happened in September and October in Sariwon and Changyon all the more remarkable.

As we reported to you in our October newsletter ( our team worked long days side by side with local staff and volunteers to install solar-powered gravity-fed water systems at these two rural rest homes from September 22 – October 9. These kinds of projects are difficult and complicated. First we have to do an initial on-site assessment. Then, if a well is needed, this has to be drilled before we can proceed. Then we have to estimate all the materials needed for the project, raise the funds, purchase some materials from the US (and others from China), inventory, pack and load them into a container and ship them across the ocean. Once the materials arrive, they have to be inventoried again at our warehouse, and be delivered to the site – which is often a long way from Pyongyang on rough roads.

Container Loading June 2014 for Web

Supplies for this year’s Fall Water Trip were shipped from CFK’s Black Mountain, NC warehouse in June 2014.

Meanwhile we have to assemble a team of willing/skilled volunteers, and apply for visas at least two months in advance of the visit. While we wait for visa and travel approval for the team, team members are raising support for their own travel costs. Finally, when all has been approved and is in place, the team travels to North Korea to install the system – working long days under what are very often challenging conditions. This whole process can easily take 2-5 years to complete.

So, when everything comes together, and our team works along side local people to install a full system in 4-6 days of hard work, there is much rejoicing when the solar panels begin to power the pump that fills the taps with cold, clean water. As the various staff members try out their frost-free hydrants for the first time – the outlets that will give them clean water on demand, summer or winter, and save them back breaking labor and countless hours of precious time in the future – there is much rejoicing and sincere gratitude shared. Patients, too, humbly find ways to express their sincere thanks, as well as villagers who live nearby and who will benefit from the clean water.

Sariwon Local with Water for Web

Two local residents living near Sariwon TB Rest Home receive water near their home!

We know from hundreds of interviews with care center staff members over many years that protein of any kind – but especially fresh meat, is a rare and extremely valued commodity. Most people are only able to have fresh meat a few times each year – usually to celebrate a major holiday. But in September at Sariwon, and in October at Changyon, each place showed their deep appreciation in the best way they knew how – by sacrificing a goat from their small flocks served together with bounty from their greenhouses so that they could honor our team and share a feast of thanksgiving and fellowship with us.

This Thanksgiving, as we sit down together with our families to count our blessings and enjoy our bountiful tables, I hope you will join us in giving thanks for the Thanksgiving feasts held in Sariwon and Changyon this year, strengthening bonds of fellowship and understanding that have grown through bearing each other’s burdens and loving one another.   We hope this overflow of deeply thankful hearts for the lasting transformations that you have helped make possible in Jesus’ name will strengthen you and give you hope and joy this Thanksgiving.

Hubbard United Methodist Church: Prayer Shawl Dedication

Prayer Shawls talk at HUMC for dedication of shawls  June 8th, 2014    

by Genell Poitras

Hubbard UMC Prayer shawls 2 This is the third year that we at this church on the Hubbard prairie (Park Rapids, Minnesota) are sending prayer shawls and knitted items half way around the world to a place we will never visit.  These expressions of loving comfort warm the hearts and the bodies of patients with tuberculosis and hepatitis as they heal in North Korean hospitals and rest homes.  Although the winter there is as cold as here the hospitals and rest homes are unheated.

Four years ago I had the privilege of accompanying a delegation to North Korea under the auspices of Christian Friends of Korea.  This organization delivers our knitted items to the patients in the rest homes and hospitals.  CFK began to work in North Korea during the severe famine in the mid 1990’s that took the lives of a million people.  After this crisis had abated, CFK began work with tuberculosis and hepatitis facilities.  CFK’s main purpose is to help these institutions become self-supporting.  They build greenhouses in order that vegetables can be available during the winter. CFK provides medicine, operating room equipment, nutritious food like canned meat, and tractors for transportation in mountainous areas.

While I was there we visited 16 rest homes and hospitals.  The rest homes were located in mountain valleys, far off main roads.  One clear, cool, April morning we drove for hours over rutted dirt roads, and forded a stream by a small village surrounded by fields ready for planting, to visit a rest home.  The home was nestled in the mountains far from any farm homes.  Patients lived in unheated rooms. genell

In the chilly office of the doctor who was the director we sat around a table laden with chestnuts, sweet potatoes, peanuts, persimmons and hot tea.  As we left I shook the hand of the doctor and told him I was impressed by the work he was doing.  He responded, “You must do something for others in order to find meaning in life.”  And, that is what we do as Christian when we reach out to others here in Hubbard, Park Rapids, our nation, and our world for what we do for others enriches and gives meaning to our lives and the lives of others.

Prayer for the Prayer Shawls

“Loving God, we send these shawls with our prayers that healing will come to the people whose shoulders these shawls will cover.  You have taught us to reach out with compassion to our brothers and sisters, many of whom we will never meet.  We give thanks for this opportunity to serve our distant neighbors.  In Jesus name we pray. Amen”

November 2012-C WJ 152

New Training Center Opened in May

Monday, May 26th 2014 marked the completion and grand opening of the new Training Center located on the grounds of the Central TB Prevention Hospital in Pyongyang.

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What followed on May 27 and 28th was a groundbreaking in-depth workshop that brought together US experts from Global Care Partners and Stanford University together with primary care physicians and laboratory specialists from many different tuberculosis (TB) care centers who are on the front lines of diagnosing and treating TB and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) patients.

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Click to download newsletter!

See Also:  National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory Project


Water Brings Life.

Contributed by Brad Howard, CFK technical volunteer.

Dr. Kim with CFK’s director, Heidi Linton, as she shares a handmade quilt to help him through his own fight against tuberculosis

During the November trip we installed a solar-powered water system at two rural Ministry of Public Health facilities: a TB rest home in Hwangju and a Hepatitis Hospital near Sariwon. We stopped the van on the side of the highway and met some men, including the director Dr. Kim (that’s the Korean version of Dr. Smith, by the way). He looked very sick. At his age and position, he could perhaps be working safely at a desk job. The fact the he continues to work directly with patients and put his own health at risk in a poor rural setting says a lot about his dedication.

Brad helping to install the new water system

Our driver drove the van through the weeds down the side of a mountain. There was no road as we think of that term. We forded a river—losing part of the rear bumper in the process– and continued through fields to approach the rest home. At

one point we had to stop to allow an ox cart to pass. We arrived at a very simple, but well kept facility. Although it was harvest time, it was a false bounty. According to the United Nations, the overall harvest was again insufficient to meet the country’s needs. The food that patients and residents grow for themselves can therefore mean the difference between life and death when so little is available through the country’s public distribution system.

Oxcart in the road!

A few days later, we moved on to the hepatitis hospital near Sariwon. For that project a pre-existing natural spring, rather than a well, was the water source. That spring has a good reputation locally, and people walk and bicycle from miles around carrying large plastic jugs to take water home. We installed a large water tank on a hillside above the hospital and installed a solar-powered pump at the spring house. This provides gravity-fed water to 11 frost-free hydrants we installed, both indoors and out.

We were fortunate that the weather cooperated. Although it rained the first day we were at this site, there was no more rain the rest of the time. Even in early November, it gets very cold in the DPRK. Fortunately, the sun came out every afternoon.

Similar facilities have already reported dramatic increases in their crops because of the irrigation these systems provide. It is so gratifying to be a part of something that makes such an immediate, tangible and lasting improvement in the quality of people’s lives in the DPRK.

The water project team consisting of CFK and North Korean volunteers

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.



Contact Us

Christian Friends of Korea
P.O. Box 936
Black Mountain, NC 28711

Phone: 828-669-2355


Words of Truth

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

— Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:18
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