Pastor's Pondering


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Doing Justice and Loving Mercy

by Duane Mabee on August 23, 2018

The story below appears in, The Meeting of the Waters by Fritz Kling. 


The Tumen River forms the border for several hundred miles between China’s Manchuria region and North Korea.  Shallow and narrow, it is a favored crossing point for North Korean refugees defecting across the Chinese border.  Armed guards of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) heavily patrol the border with orders to shoot anyone sneaking across either way.  The area I was visiting was all the more sensitive because it was just a few miles from Russia.  How sobering, when we drove over a hill in China the next morning, to see the Russian border a few hundred yards to the north and North Korea a few hundred yards across the river to the east!  That put me on edge. 


Located on the same latitude as Scotland, Scandinavia, and Alaska, North Korea is dark and cold much of the year.  The area is under snow for months on end during the winter, and the Tumen River freezes solid.  My host told me how most winter mornings, standing on the China side of the frozen river, he sees fresh tracks in the snow from people who had trudged back and forth during the previous night.  He explained that during the long winter nights when guards and all others burrow indoors, relief efforts into North Korea move into high gear.


Who, I wondered, would trudge during freezing nights through snowdrifts across icy rivers, illegally crossing the border into the most repressive regime on the face of the earth?  This country has topped the “World Watch List” for seven years as the very worst country for persecution of Christians.  Who would choose to enter North Korea, where people routinely disappear into prison camps, suffering interrogation, persecution, torture, or death, never to be heard from again?  At the beginning of the twenty-first century, many viewed North Korea as the world’s most barbaric practitioner of democide, “governments’ intentional killing – whether by induced famine, or forced labor, assassinations, extrajudicial executions, massacres, to full-scale genocide – of civilians.  In is completely understandable that there would be a mass of one-way footprints heading out of North Korea toward the relative freedom in China… but who would cross that river and risk their lives to go in?


The global church, that’s who, as it practices compassion and aid for desperate and forgotten people around the world.  What’s more, footprints pointing straight into the face of danger and despair are replicated hourly around the world wherever people have dire needs of any kind. 


This is what the church looks like when it practices “doing justice and loving mercy”.  This, church, is who we are called to be.  And, it’s who we are in many places around the world today.