Power of Prayer

Notes from visiting my government students in China

Kuandian County is in Dandong in Liaoning Province, and sits on the border with North Korea, across the Yalu.

It is one of the semiautonomous majority-minority counties in China. The population is mostly Manchu, one of the barbarian tribes that pestered China for centuries. In 1644 the Manchus took over Beijing, established the Qing dynasty and began elimination of the Ming dynasty. Kuandian is one of those dongbei, northeast China areas from which the Manchus came.

During the Korean War, American planes bombed the bridge between Dandong and Sinuiju on the North Korean side, and the bridge has remained in its destroyed condition as a memorial. The Chinese side was rebuilt long ago. 

There is another bridge over the Yalu, over which flows Chinese gasoline and oil and other supplies to the North.  Not much flows the other way.  No need for a bike lane or sidewalk on the bridge – there is no person traffic either way, and both sides want it that way.

 The border with North Korea is heavily fenced, with barbed wire on heavy steel fencing – in some places.  Our student was the vice mayor of Kuandian County, and he knew the border very well. Part of his job entailed having to send fleeing North Koreans back, a job he did not like to do, but was absolutely necessary. Chinese don’t want a million North Korean streaming over the border anymore than Kim Jong Il does. 

In some places, the border is defined by an imaginary line between old concrete posts.




Where the border is not heavily fenced, it is guarded, without a physical barrier. Our student got us a couple of steps into North Korea at one of those places. He said not to go too far, though, because he could get us into North Korea, but not out. Guards are everywhere.




At some places, the border is a rivulet, two meters wide and a good six inches deep, with easy sloping banks from about six feet above. North Korean women wash their clothes in the water, and an energetic Chinese man could leap across and not get wet.  There are no energetic North Koreans who could do the same. If one of the North Koreans does come across the border, the Chinese guards must send them back. 




The North is right there, steps away, separated by water no wider or deeper than one would encounter at some Chicago street corner after a big rain. 

South Korean Christians are strongly moved by the injustice, immorality and cruelty beyond the border. Even now, there are families split by the border, and grandparents wanting to see grandchildren, uncles to see nieces and nephews. The families have no way of seeing each other; prayer is their only connection.

There is a tour bus turnaround at this spot on the border, and busloads of South Koreans come to China to sing and pray at the border. My colleague Scott Peters and I watched a busload of South Koreans disembark, line up and sing to and pray for relatives in the North. There was no one to hear them on the other side, except possibly a guard. The South Koreans are in the upper right corner of the picture.




They stood and sung for a good half an hour. No North Koreans were able to line up on the other side.

The power of faith moves people – in this case, from South Korea across the Bohai to Shenyang or Dalian, where they rented a bus and rode a couple of hours to the border, taking half an hour to pray for family they will never see.   

It is remarkable to stand on one side of a rivulet and be free to come and go, then step across and be … not. Where you stand on the earth can make an enormous personal and political difference.

The South Koreans could not move their family members across the rivulet, but they moved us. Freedom, as they say, isn’t free.