There is no longer any American tourism to North Korea, after the Trump administration’s travel ban (the one that isn’t stuck in endless court battles) went into effect. Before Sept. 1st, Americans could book tours through a number of Chinese agents.
From what I gather from people who have been, the tours were mostly the same. A nice hotel in surprisingly modern (and empty) Pyongyang, probably similar to a Hyatt or high-end Marriott in America; visits to various places of interest including massive shrines to the deified Leaders; a parade; a trip to the DMZ; possibly a theme park where all the customers are foreigners; a river cruise with fireworks; a movie; then off to home.
Of course, it’s all more carefully managed than a trip to the Magic Kingdom. Nothing is real in the sense of tourists don’t get to talk to real North Korean citizens. Visitors are shunned and feared like aliens from a far-off world. Even cute little children are given stern warnings about the “stranger danger” of friendly round-eyed tourists. Whatever limited contact with indigenous people is allowed, it’s stage-managed and assiduously observed by trained “minders.”
But the people are real, and the children are cute. They are someone’s sons and daughters. Their parents most certainly love and cherish their children, although everyone in North Korea understands that kids belong to the state, as does everyone in the Hermit Kingdom. Even visitors.
Ask the parents of 22-year-old Otto Warmbler, who was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to 15 years at hard labor. After 17 months, in June of this year, he was sent home in a coma, never to reawaken. He died shortly afterwards, with no explanation from his “hosts.” His crime? They claim he stole a poster while on one of those visitor tours.
This brings me, in a roundabout way, to my main point. Warmbler’s parents are rightly upset and grieved at their son’s fate. In North Korea, there’s no difference between the American boy’s treatment and their own citizens—run afoul of the state and disappear forever. The show trial was purely for propaganda.
In many countries in the world, life doesn’t carry the same sacred meaning and value as it does here. Parents love their children all over the world, because human beings are hard-wired that way. But some cultures venerate having sons over daughters, leading to infanticide of girls. Some cultures elevate certain “honor” codes above the value of life, leading to murder of teenagers who violate the codes.
Just because other cultures don’t attach the same values to the love of their children, as little kids or adults, doesn’t mean we should love their kids less than our own.
Patriotism and nationalism and sovereignty are wonderful concepts and stirring to the emotions and the soul. They are necessary to the proper ordering of the world as God has given it to us (remember the Tower of Babel?). But as Mark Twain wrote in The War Prayer, our beseeching of the Holy One to answer our requests carries with it the unuttered portion that is heard by God as well, since He sees our hearts.
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. He loves us and our children, and our enemies’ children, more than we are capable of as limited humans with our limited moral lens.
It is with supreme difficulty and supreme humility that I must summit the mountain of God to peer over the far side where I have never set foot, into the dark valley of my enemy’s camp, and see Him lovingly smiling upon North Korean children, Palestinian children, the children of terrorists, the children of despots and butchers. We pray that our children might be protected from all harm, yet hurricanes afflict us, and earthquakes claim schools in Mexico.
Only God is sovereign to give and reclaim life on earth. Children do not belong to us as parents, or to the church, or to the state. They belong to Him.
When we speak of war, and immigration, and refugees, and the consequences of our own decisions; of the great and important tasks we feel have been laid upon us by God, we must understand that we may only be His instruments, never the Master of them.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. So must we.