Evangelist Billy Graham made his second trip to North Korea in two years in late January, amid escalating political tensions between the East Asian communist country and the United States over nuclear weapons.

During the six-day visit to the capital, Pyongyang, Graham was received by North Korean President Kim Il Sung, the country’s 81-year-old socialist strongman. While refusing to disclose details of his three-hour meeting with Kim, Graham said discussions covered political and religious topics.

The 75-year-old evangelist also conveyed a message from President Bill Clinton to the North Korean leader. Kim entrusted him with a reply for the American President. There are no diplomatic relations between the two nations. While stating his principal reason for visiting North Korea was to preach the gospel, Graham’s trip coincides with the lowest ebb in U.S.-North Korean relations in recent years. The two nations are engaged in a bitter standoff over reports that North Korea may have developed a nuclear bomb and over Pyongyang’s refusal to allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

“One of my reasons for going at this time was to express my concern for peace in the region and to make whatever small contribution I could to better relations between our two nations,” Graham told reporters in Hong Kong. He visited North Korea under the auspices of the government-sanctioned Korean Christians Federation and remains the only foreign Christian minister to preach in North Korea since the nation’s formation in 1948. His first trip to North Korea was in April 1992.

The evangelist was invited to preach in the newly opened Protestant Chilgol church near Pyongyang. He became the first foreigner to address a public meeting at Pyongyang’s Great People’s Study House, speaking on why Christians are to be a moral and spiritual influence in society. He also spoke to more than 400 students and faculty at the Kim Il Sung University and was interviewed on national television.

Prior to his North Korean visit, Graham spent ten days in China following an evangelistic crusade in Japan (CT, Feb. 7, 1994, p. 46). While in Beijing, he held private discussions with political and religious figures, including Religious Affairs Bureau director Zhang Zhengzuo and the head of the official Protestant Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), Bishop K. H. Ting. He also preached in Beijing’s Chongwenmen TSPM church and in an independent house church.

In light of reports of continued police harassment and persecution of some unregistered church members, Graham said he felt the plight of some Chinese Christians was “terrible—almost unforgivable,” but added that God was “using them to further the gospel in China.”

“I talked to a leader about two years ago in China … and I said, ‘Why is Christianity growing so fast in China?’ ” Graham recounted. “He said, ‘Because we are persecuting them.… But we are going to stop it, because they are growing so fast that the more we persecute [the churches], the faster they grow.’ ”

By Andrew Wark, News Network International, in Hong Kong.

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