Thanksgiving Sunday

I took this photograph yesterday near the DMZ (de-militarized zone). You can see the South Korean flags wedged into the fence topped with razor wire. Beyond the fence there are some harvested fields, a bridge, and some mountains. When I looked across the border into North Korea from the vantage point of an observatory further down the road, all I could see were mostly mountains and a few buildings. According to a video shown at the observatory, the mountains are largely deforested, probably because all the trees have been cut down for fuel. The town across the river from the observatory seldom has any motor vehicles on its unpaved roads, and farming is usually done by hand without the aid of a tractor. 

From across the river, North Korea looks beautiful. 

There are no high rise apartment complexes obstructing the view of the mountains, so the vistas are lovely. But life there is neither lovely nor beautiful for its people, who live under Stalin-style communism, complete with malnutrition, a poor economy, religious persecution, egomaniacal leadership, and slave labor "re-education" camps where people die for "impure ideology" like worshipping God. 

The South Korean people come to places like these located near the border to learn about their country's past and to look north to the other Korea, where some still have family. There are reminders of the Korean war, like this steam locomotive riddled with bullet holes and the Freedom Bridge where captured soldiers were returned to their countries.

Driving to and alongside the DMZ, one passes military installations and miles and miles of fences with guard towers facing North Korea. There are monuments to great people who fought for freedom, many of whom lost their lives, and there are places for quiet reflection too.

At Imjingak, there were reminders that, despite the sad events of the last century, life goes on in South Korea, and that life is pretty good. Not far from the large letters below was a Popeye's restaurant, a coffee shop selling bagels, at least three Korean restaurants, a small amusement park, and a windy hill where families were flying kites.

North Korean products were available for sale in the gift shops. Parents could even buy their children Joint Security Area (the other name for the DMZ) military uniforms like this one for a little girl:

The North Korean side of the river looked undeveloped and nearly deserted, but on the South Korean side, I only had to turn 90 degrees to take this picture showing cars driving along paved highways toward a city with all the comforts of modern housing, stores filled with food and other goods, good schools, good jobs, and places of worship.

In our place of worship today, we celebrated Thanksgiving. I led some songs of thanks, the congregation sang a special song of thanks in Korean, Pastor Steve spoke a message about the servant's true heart of thanks, and we closed the service with another special thanksgiving song by a men's quartet, of which I was the non-Korean, English singing tenor. We had several visitors today and lots of special food for our potluck. There was no turkey, since it was nearly $7.50 a pound at the local Costco, but we did have mashed potatoes mixed with squash, along with pumpkin, apple, pecan, and sweet potato pies, banana bread, macaroni and cheese, white chicken chili, potato-broccoli soup, and whole berry cranberry sauce that I made with cranberries Pastor Steve brought me from America. Added to that were many other Korean delicacies, and nobody walked away from lunch complaining there wasn't enough to eat, since Chef Tain and the other cooks in the church made certain that there would be a bountiful spread. 

After lunch, I met with the teens/young adults and we went around the room sharing something that we were personally thankful for. It was a sweet time of fellowship with some new people in the group, including two Korean guys that Nobu brought. One was his manager from work who had friended me on Facebook this week, because I think he'd like to improve his English. Although I didn't say it, I was thankful for all the things in my backpack that some of my friends had sent over with Pastor Steve, including some money, which I needed. Included in the delivery were some spices and a jar of molasses so that I can make some Ginger Crinkle cookies to share with people. I need the recipe, Mom!

I wonder what North Koreans are thankful for today? The underground believers there must be thankful for their salvation and the hope that it gives them, just as we were thankful for our salvation during our church service today when we sang, 

"Thank you for the Cross, Lord. Thank you for the price You paid. 
Bearing all my sin and shame, in love you came, and gave amazing grace." 

They are probably thankful for what little they have and that they have one another. I was blessed to hear the young people being thankful for each other and for their time of fellowship. Nobody was giving thanks for things, other than the good food we'd just eaten. We were all thankful for the true blessings that come from God's hand. 

As for me, I'm thankful for little children's homemade turkeys that I saw decorating the subway station.

I'm thankful that I grew up in a country where I could attend a Christian school where we worship God and not the dictators that lead the country, as shown in this model North Korean classroom with the leaders' pictures above the chalkboard.

I'm thankful that I grew up in a country where most people have enough to eat, unlike North Korea where, due to malnutrition, the average adult male grows to be 157 cm (5 feet, 2 inches) tall.

God has bestowed upon me many blessings. I am thankful whenever anyone sends in some support money for me, since I cannot legally work here and have no income. Pastor White's church in Gorham, Maine and Pastor Vreeland's church in the Rumford, Maine area faithfully send whatever they can. A couple in Maine and a lady in Baltimore send in monthly support, and I have a little savings to draw upon too when my support falls short of my needs. God is faithful. God is good. He is the Giver of all good things.

I loved this centerpiece the ladies in our church put together today. 

The flowers, the fruits, and the vegetables were all so pleasing to the eye, smelled wonderful, and (later) tasted good (at least the oranges I ate did). But more beautiful still were the hearts behind the arrangement and the heart of God Who made each of those hearts, Who designed each petal of each flower, Who caused the gardens to grow and bring forth fruits.

In about a week and a half, it will be Thanksgiving in America, one of the most blessed countries on the planet. Maybe, if you back home in America think of it, take a moment this Thanksgiving and pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ in North Korea. Pray for their safety and for God's blessing upon them, whatever that may be. Someday, we will meet them in heaven. This reminds me of a hymn I sang as a boy, so I will write the chorus in closing.

When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! 
When we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the victory!



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