Interviews: Exec. Director of PSALT

GRACE KIM

She’s one of the most amazing women I have met not only in this field, but also in my life. She works as a banker by day, and runs a non-profit when not in the office. Crazy busy, humble, grounded, and passionate about serving the North Korean defectors.

Q1. Please describe PSALT’s purpose and acronym.

PSALT is an acronym for Prayer, Service, Action, Love, Truth. The full name of the organizations is PSALT NK (North Korea)

Our organization is a 501c3 non-profit Christian ministry that works to educate others about North Korea and carrying out work to help the North Korean people – particularly the North Korean refugees. As a Christian group, we focus particularly on the spiritual aspect of the battle over North Korea, and work to educate and mobilize the response of sincere, committed and praying people to meet both spiritual and physical aspects of the needs.

Due to the very sensitive nature of this area of work, one of our purposes began with bridging the gap between the missionaries out in the field who cannot be open or public about their work, and the citizens in the ‘free world’ who learn about the sufferings of the North Korean people and are looking for straightforward and reliable channels through which they can make a difference.

Aside from helping to allocate resources as effectively and impactfully as possible, we also focus our efforts on increasing awareness and deeper education about NK issues through internship and missions trainings, presentations and a new seminar course on North Korea which we will be launching in the coming year. We feel that the more people know and understand the issues, they better they are able to represent the issues concerning North Korea, exercise discernment in their involvement in this work and use their skills and talents to be helpful, creative and even innovative in making a difference.

Another purpose in our work is to be an agent and example of reconciliation and healing among ourselves. We recognize that there is a reason we are where we are and why we’ve started here in the States, and in this pool of generations and cultures — and not in Korea or elsewhere. There are strengths and challenges in the Korean American community in general, as well as among the KA Christian communities. There are cultural, linguistic and generational barriers that are very difficult for many in our community to overcome. There are many broken families, deep pain, and pasts that are simply not discussed. While this is true for most other communities, given the relatively recent history of Korean-American immigration in this area, the recent history of major war and strife over the Korean peninsula, and the array of diversity even within the Korean American socio-economic strata, the divisions and challenges are quite vivid. If we cannot overcome even the divisions within our own households or churches, it becomes that much more distant and unrealistic for us to pray for and expect healing and reconciliation over the Korean peninsula. Of course, we do not expect reconciliation among individuals to be achieved at 100%, but we must work to achieve and overcome in ourselves what we hope for on a larger scale. Thus, in our operations, outreach, event-planning and decision making, PSALT actively works to engage different generations and communities to achieve our goals together and bring healing to our members and those who participate in our events.

Q2. What was your inspiration for founding PSALT?

Apart from the incredible breadth and urgency of the issues concerning North Korea, the observation that the type of work we are doing today and hope to do going forward was truly lacking in our area 5 years ago was enough impetus for starting this ministry. It was and continues to be a journey of obedience, availability, faith and hope.

My own story as to how I became interested in this issue in the first place begins about seven years prior, when I first visited South Korea for the first time. I was there for missions-related work and first heard of the conditions in North Korea from a visiting missionary. I believe that is when the seeds were planted in my heart. Later when I had visited China, I met many refugees. Just hearing their stories and looking into their eyes, I saw a need that was so much deeper than just providing the basic humanitarian aid of food, clothing and shelter. So many carry incredibly deep pain and their hearts are locked an inner prison of guilt or sadness or terror. I really truly saw that they only power that can miraculously heal and release these people was none other than the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Behind work like this, we need praying people, and a broken, repentant and earnest group of believers who can love with a Love beyond their own abilities. All of these experiences and lessons led to the start of PSALT’s ministry.

Q3. Could you briefly describe a memorable experience while doing work through PSALT?

There are so many memorable experiences that I’m not sure where to start or what to choose…Later in the same year PSALT was launched, I remember young couple with a baby in one of the rural shelters for NK refugees in China. The baby, only a few months old, was adorable. The mother, playing with the baby, made airplane motions with her hands asking her baby, “Do you want to fly away to America with your brothers and sisters? Let’s fly away!” My heart just broke. Refugees in China have very little future and must hide their identities. This young child would not be able to go to school or have any legitimate future unless the family made the dangerous journey to escape to a third country. I wished so much I could just bring them with me and share the privilege I had to go back to my home, safety and freedom — I think if I wished any harder my heart would just burst.

Today PSALT funds the rescue of refugees – families, trafficked women, orphaned children, etc. – through our Exodus project. We process as many requests as we can possibly handle and work with a network of caring and loving missionaries who help the refugees on their way. I do not know where the family I met is today, but someday I hope to see them again.

Q4. How are NK defectors in the US different from those in South Korea? Do they face different trials?

NK defectors are an extremely diverse group so there are differences among them regardless of where they resettle. Of course, over time there will be differences as a result of living in different countries and cultures. The resettlement experience of NK refugees in SK and the US are certainly very different.

SK provides many programs and government resources – including significant monetary aid — specifically tailored toward the NK defector population. The US resettlement resources, on the other hand, are very minimal in general for all refugees and there is no additional resource, program or supplementary program for NK refugee adjustment/acclamation to their new life.

Both populations find themselves very lonely. SK has now resettled over 20,000 NK refugees and the US has resettled 101 NK refugees. Given the numbers, resources and defector-organized support groups in SK, the potential to find fellowship among other NK’s is much greater.

NK defectors who are unhappy with their experience in SK, however, report significant discrimination – especially in social and employment circumstances. Some NK defectors either choose to go to the US or try to immigrate to the US claiming they would “rather be discriminated by other people than my own people.”

In the US, while discrimination is not new or rare, most Americans are generally very open and/or familiar with people of different cultures/races and one’s specific Korean nationality is not generally any cause for issue. In fact, those with any knowledge of the situation on the Korean peninsula find meeting a North Korean person a novel curiosity.

5. Many defectors want to come to the United States, why do you think this is the case?

There are various reasons including:

–       Hearing good stories of opportunities in the US

–       Fear of discrimination among SK people

–       Wanting to start new and fresh and putting the past behind them

–       Guilt toward the SK people (especially those with a government/military background)

6. What is the greatest need in the US regarding this cause?

There are many needs, but I would separate the two into international and domestic issues.For domestic needs, there needs to be a marked improvement in the refugee resettlement process for NK refugees as well as resources made available to them. If the government sanctioned VOLAGS cannot provide the necessary resources for NK refugees, steps greater support and cooperation with organizations that can do work to help NK refugees (i.e. PSALT’s Hope Village program) should be made.

For international needs, I won’t address US policy/stance toward NK. Instead, I will focus on the need for the US to be more adamant in demands of the UN and China to allow for humanitarian treatment of refugees, allowing them safe passage to a third country. This would be a huge step that could eliminate the snowball effect of incredible human suffering among NK refugees – including sexual trafficking, repatriation and imprisonment, extortion, etc.

7. Do you think most Americans think that the NK crisis is a “Korean issue” and turn a blind eye?

For the most part, yes. First of all, many Americans are not even aware of the NK/SK issue or the true condition of NK and its treatment of its people. Moving past that, even for those who do care, they imagine that Koreans and Korean Americans should and would naturally be the most passionate about the issue.

Fortunately in the course of our work and outreach we’ve come across many many non-Koreans believers who are passionate about the issues concerning North Korea and take ownership of the issue as Christian believers and viewing the issue as spiritual and humanitarian first before being an ‘ethnic’ issue.

8. On a more personal note, how do you balance your day job and PSALT? Are most people surprised by your age?

It’s not easy. This is a calling and a commitment, not some romantic notion of heroism or personal satisfaction. More than anything though, this has been a blessed journey, filled with challenges and growth. Well, I’m not getting any younger, so perhaps at first they might have been surprised, but responsibility has probably aged my personality a bit so they don’t talk about my age much. Along with age, I think part of the surprise is related to my gender. When I first started this ministry, I think being a young, asian, female garnered a bit of disbelief. So, when I would sometimes meet with older men who want to know more about our organization they would ask me: “well, who started this organization… I mean, who founded it… I mean, who is actually behind/leading this group?” My answer would basically be the same each time, but it was hard for them to grasp.

9. Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for the younger generations of activists in this cause?

Things are looking up, the thankless work out countless people and their prayers over the years is shedding light and hope into North Korea. Don’t be discouraged, but be wise and prayerful in deciding how to be involved.

The time to start being informed, getting involved and making a difference is now. The leaders of today are making decisions that won’t so much affect their lives as it will yours!

Know yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, habits, etc.  Be honest with yourself and willing to acknowledge even the painful things about who you are. Spend time in introspection. Don’t let others opinions get you down, but think them over. Be patient with yourself but take steps (even baby steps) toward discipline and growth. The decisions you make become increasingly significant and to make good ones you have to be honest with you are.

Get to know God. The more you spend time with someone, the better you know them and recognize their voice —  the same is with God. Spend time in the word and in prayer. He will reveal more of Himself to you, and also more of who you are as well! You can’t know yourself completely without knowing the one who created you and knows your full purpose. His directions and revelations complete who you are and you don’t want to make significant decisions in life without His guidance and leading!

The last I talked to her, she was traveling abroad doing more research about what can be done for the North Korean people. Her passion and humility inspires many including me! I have no doubt that PSALT will be there to comfort the defectors here in the US not only by providing physical needs, but also by giving love. For more information on PSALT, please visit their website at http://psaltnk.com/

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