Helping Hands Korea’s mission for North Koreans at home and among escapees
Founded in 1996 by a US US Christian activist and his wife, the NGO sends food, medicine and necessities to poor North Koreans. Via an “underground route”, it gets escapees out to safety in neighbouring countries. Its Christian ethic attracts volunteers, including non-believers.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Founded in 1996 by Rev Tim Peters, a US-born Protestant minister, and his wife Helping Hands Korea (HHK) secretly moves North Korean escapees to third countries after helping them flee to China (the usual escape route). At the same time, it provides help and supplies to needy families in the world’s most reclusive country.
The Peters’ inspiration comes from the Gospel of Matthew (25:40): “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” which defines their mission.
They work for a country ruled by an inflexible dictatorship, with no religious freedom, where Christians are persecuted, and people are starving while its leader, Kim Jong-un, builds nuclear weapons and prepares for war, further boosted by recent support given by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a potential alliance that worries the West.
According to its website, HHK works with individuals and groups who “share a sense of urgency for vulnerable sectors of the population within North Korea as well as escapees.”
Its work consists of providing food, medicine and clothing to people inside the country and “logistical support along the so-called underground railroad to safe havens in neighbouring countries” for those who manage to flee.
The organisation sends “vegetable seeds, rice biscuits, rice cakes, bread rolls, corn, flour and dehydrated one-pot meals,” while its volunteers pack vegetable seeds for “kitchen gardens” so that ordinary North Koreans can grow their own food instead of relying on the country’s official collective farms that mainly benefit the elite.
This aid is especially earmarked for orphans, disabled, seniors, and persecuted Christians, while 40 per cent of North Koreans are undernourished, according to HHK.
Mr Peters cannot divulge exactly how his organisation is able to exfiltrate North Korean escapees, including children who have been abandoned by their mothers, through China or how he manages to get supplies into the country across the Yalu River.
He does, however, acknowledge that he possesses an extensive network of helpers in East Asia.
HHK’s advocacy includes lobbying Western legislative bodies and media as well as public lectures and other events to raise the visibility of suffering North Koreans and slave labourers in China.
The clergyman was moved to create HHK by the famine that struck North Korea in the mid-1990s, which received little attention internationally and left a people alone to fend for itself that it “cried out for a Biblical response” rather than mere words.
He has been in Korea for extended periods during every decade since 1975 and is fluent in Korean.
Expressing feelings of close connection with the Korean people, he says the real story of North Korea is the brutalisation of the population by the communist regime.
Most HHK's volunteers are not Christians, the NGO Underground Railroad reported in a 2020 interview whereas Tim Peters and his wife perform their work out of Christian conviction.
Many people knock on their door to contribute, including journalists, English teachers, and expats.
Peters said he hopes HHK can “combine the spiritual and the practical humanitarian” spirit by bringing together different people through a shared concern for the situation in the north.
As for his wife, Peters calls her “the secret weapon of the organisation” because she does vital work behind-the-scenes.
The clergyman was featured in the Korean Newsweek, the US magazine Time and the South China Morning Post. However, the South Korean government has not acknowledged his work.
Still, he has received awards from the Friends of North Korean Refugees, founded by the most famous North Korean defector, and Stefanus, a Norwegian missionary association, which has worked with him for 15 years.
Tim, his wife and their organisation have done a job that is short of a miracle, which they continue to do, rescuing and aiding struggling North Koreans.