Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Newsline Special Report

Global mission executive travels to North Korea for university opening

The Church of the Brethren has sent a representative to the opening of a unique educational venture in North Korea--the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), reported to be the first privately funded university allowed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The ceremony culminated years of effort to build the school by the sponsoring nonprofit agency, the faith-based Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture.

Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of the Church of the Brethren's Global Mission Partnerships, attended on behalf of the church. His presence continues the long-standing relationship that the Brethren have built in North Korea through the hunger relief and food security programs of the church's Global Food Crisis Fund.

The Church of the Brethren has worked in North Korea since 1996, with most recent efforts since 2004 focused on a cluster of farm cooperatives supported through annual grants from the Global Food Crisis Fund. In the intervening years, the productivity of the four farms in the North Korea Farm Rehabilitation program has virtually doubled.

The four farms feed and house a community of some 15,000 people and caught the attention of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Dec. 2007 when he visited one of the communities and publicly commended its use of advanced farming techniques.

The Brethren work in North Korea has been carried out in partnership with Agglobe Services International and a local Ryongyon Joint Venture enterprise. Agglobe president Pilju Kim Joo makes regular visits to the farm cooperatives. In 2008, the Foods Resource Bank also became a partner and nine of its member denominations have joined in an annual $100,000 grant for the Ryongyon program.

In early 2008, in an act yet rarely extended to Americans, a delegation from the Church of the Brethren including Global Food Crisis Fund manager Howard Royer, was invited to visit the farms in North Korea. Wittmeyer's visit to North Korea from Sept. 15-17 follows up on that relationship.

Wittmeyer was one of a delegation of foreign dignitaries that attended the opening ceremony of the new university, celebrating completion of campus construction and the appointment of Chin-Kyung (James) Kim as co-president. Kim is an American businessman turned educator and an evangelical Christian who emigrated to the United States from South Korea in the 1970s. He gained international attention when he was imprisoned for a time by North Korea in 1998, while on one of his frequent visits to the country to work on famine relief (see his story at, go to
). A second co-president for the university will be named by North Korea.

A sister university--Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in China--also is sponsored by the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture and run with South Korean non-governmental funding. Yanbian University is located in an ethnically Korean area of China.

The Pyongyang university has been built on a 200-plus acre campus on the outskirts of the capital city of North Korea. The project to develop and build it began in 2001 with the permission of both the North and South Korean governments. "Actual construction began in 2004, and, after five years, the campus is finally complete despite numerous interruptions and delays," reported a release from the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture.

"This university seeks to establish reconciliation, cooperation, and mutual prosperity of the Korean people through education and to form a firm foundation for peace with the ultimate goal of reunification," the foundation said. "PUST hopes to nurture the future leaders who will play a crucial role in realizing this goal and hopes to become the bridge between the international community and North Korea."

The first 150 students at the university will be accepted in the fields of information and communications engineering; agricultural biotechnology and food engineering; and industrial management, Kim said in a release. Eventually the school is expected to serve some 600 graduate students. Lectures will be in English, and students will be required to meet or exceed a certain score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). North Korea already has recruited prospective students among "carefully chosen elites" who studied at top North Korean schools like Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology, the release said.

Wittmeyer was among some 120 people from around the world who attended the opening ceremony along with about 100 North Koreans from educational and other affiliated institutions. Attendees from South Korea included Sun-Hee Kwak, chair of the trustees of the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture. From the US, attendees included John Dickson, chair of the World Trade Center Association; Ronald Ellis, president of California Baptist University; Deborah Fikes, advisor to the Harvard Medical School Center for Health and Global Environment; and Gary Alan Spanovich, head trustee of the Wholistic Peace Initiative, among others.

The foundation reported that the US Department of State also expressed its interest in a congratulatory message to the new university.

Find online a photo album of the university opening and other events during the delegation's visit in North Korea, and a photo album of the Brethren-funded North Korea farm rehabilitation program.


Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren, or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Jay Wittmeyer and Howard Royer contributed to this report.