A seven-member ecumenical delegation from the United States that included the Episcopal Church's peace and justice officer, the Rev. Brian Grieves, marked the end of a year-long initiative by the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, its relief and development agency, with the delivery of 61 tons of refined wheat flour donated by CWS.
The shipment, which cost nearly $100,000 to deliver, filled seven railway wagons. Since the outbreak of a crippling famine several years ago, the value of food aid provided by CWS to North Korea totals almost $4.5 million.
The recent shipment fills a critical need. As winter grips North Korea, 2.2 million people, or 10 percent of the population, will no longer receive food rations provided by the World Food Program.
This year the program, a United Nations agency, expects to distribute only 300,000 tons of food, 62 percent of the amount the program had requested from donors.
The Korean Christians Federation, a longstanding ecumenical partner based in Pyongyang, North Korea, hosted the U.S. delegation, which visited Seoul, South Korea, in a specially convened National Council of Churches in Korea Assembly and an interfaith peace conference.
"Once again the churches in the U.S. are joining with overseas partner churches to press for a just solution to one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints," said Grieves.
The delegation issued a statement calling for six responses by Americans, Koreans and the international community to the burgeoning political and humanitarian crisis on the Korean peninsula. The delegation called on congregations to contemplate how the gospel's call to be peacemakers applies to their understanding of the Korean situation, to advocate with members of Congress for the reunification of Korea and to urge President George Bush to continue negotiations with North Korea.
It also called on the ecumenical community to develop ties with Christians on the Korean peninsula and to renew cooperation in advocacy, information sharing and visits to isolated Christians in North Korea.
Grieves said that three in the delegation met with Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly after their return and, among other things, pleaded that humanitarian aid not be linked to political issues. "He was very positive but we'll have to see," Grieves said. "The U.S. used to be the 'number one' provider of food in North Korea. Now it's fifth. And the U.S. contribution included more than wheat, but added things like dried milk and eggs and cooking oil, those that are essential to being able to use the wheat.
"The World Food Program person in Pyongyang told us how crucial U.S. participation is and how much the decline has hurt. It's literally life and death.
"The U.S. argues that North Korea feeds its army first and doesn't account for the aid. But the WFP says accountability is much improved. And we figure feeding the army is part of the calculation of feeding the country. They are people too."