Behind-the-scenes: Arranging Billy Graham’s First Historic Visit to North Korea

By Mark Ellis On July 19, 2014

The notoriously closed "hermit kingdom" of North Korea ran into a problem in the late 1980s. They wanted to teach the history of various religions at their foremost university, but because they had done everything humanly possible to destroy religion, they couldn't find anyone qualified to teach on the subject of Christianity.

"We have found someone to teach Buddhist studies, and someone to teach Confucius studies, but we can't find anyone qualified to teach Christianity," a North Korean official wrote in a letter to Dr. Dale Kietzman, then the executive vice-president of William Carey International University in Pasadena, California.

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He and Dr. David Cho had sent a letter to Kim Il-Sung University in North Korea asking if an exchange program could be established between the two schools. It took several months, but they finally received a response.

When the communist regime was installed in 1948, there were 400,000 Christians in North Korea. Unleashing a reign of terror, the government tried to exterminate all religion, installing a Marxist dynasty ruled by Kim Il-Sung and his son. Most Christians fled to the south, were martyred, or went underground. Nearly every church building in the country was bulldozed.

It was no wonder the regime couldn't find anyone to teach Christianity, but their need provided an opening for Kietzman, Dr. Cho, and Charles Wickman to visit North Korea in 1990.

After touring several days in the capital city of Pyongyang the visitors were told: "You should be prepared, because tonight you're going to have dinner with a very, very, important person."

"We were taken to a government guesthouse that evening after dark, and after dark in Pyongyang it's very dark, because they don't have many street lights. We couldn't tell where they had taken us," Dr. Kietzman recounts.

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