MCC workers deliver medical supplies to North Korea

Julie Bell, senior writer for MCC Canada, describes the journey of eight small bags of medical supplies she helped deliver to a medical clinic in North Korea.

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Julie Bell, MCC Canada senior writer and Chris Rice, MCC representative for Northeast Asia, with medical staff at clinic near Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, also known as North Korea). MCC decided to put together medical kits and consulted with medical experts, both in and outside MCC, on what the kits should contain.

It’s been a long trek for these eight small bags of medical supplies. They have been packed and re-packed, crossed an ocean and passed through three countries and numerous airport security checks.

On this day the bags have reached their destination—a small medical clinic on a farm near Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

As I watch my Mennonite Central Committee colleague, Chris Rice, hand one of the bags to the medical staff, I am humbled by the significance of this small gesture. Rice and I, and two of our MCC colleagues, are in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea, at a time when tensions between this country and other parts of the world are running high. On this November day, United States president Donald Trump is in the region and most people, including the people of DPRK, are aware of that.

And yet, the story of how the medical kits came to be is what matters most in this moment. Through translation, we tell the medical staff we have come to DPRK to visit some of the projects supported by MCC, including providing canned meat and soybean products to orphanages and schools and agricultural support on their farm.

But their faces light up when we tell them that it was a conversation during a previous visit to the Pyongyang farm that prompted a collaboration of people around the world.

During that visit, medical staff told MCC about accidents on the farm—everything from cuts and scrapes to sprains and broken bones. Word of the need for medical supplies traveled through MCC’s regional office in South Korea and on to MCC offices in Canada and the U.S.

We decided to put together medical kits and consulted with medical experts, both in and outside MCC, on what the kits should contain. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to buy the supplies, and they were delivered to our material resources warehouse in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Natalie Gulenchyn, who is in her eighties and volunteers at MCC’s material resources warehouse in Winnipeg, sewed the medical kit bags that were transported to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea.
Photo: MCC

That’s where Natalie Gulenchyn, a long-time volunteer at the resource center got involved.  She cut the fabric and sewed the bags, complete with MCC’s iconic dove logo.

Everything was packed into a piece of luggage, which traveled with me from Winnipeg to Beijing, China. In Beijing, we checked to make sure everything was okay and re-packed the luggage.

The luggage crossed its last border when we traveled to Pyongyang. In yet another hotel room, we moved the supplies—from bandages to surgical tape and disposable gloves—into the eight bags lovingly sewn by Natalie.

Now, as the nurses and a doctor at the clinic thank us for the supplies, I am so grateful for all the hands and hearts involved in bringing these simple gifts here. Donors, volunteers, MCC workers and their families—these people made it happen.

On this day, the hostilities and harsh rhetoric of current times are irrelevant. I think about the many references in the Bible to “do the work of God’s hands.” The call to carry gifts of comfort and words of peace is the only truth that matters.

MCC News Service
Mennonite Central Committee is a global, nonprofit organization that strives to share God’s love and compassion for all through relief, development and peace. MCC is committed to relationships with their local partners and churches. As an Anabaptist organization, they strive to make peace a part of everything they do.

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