Evangelist in N. Korea for 4-day visit

N.C.-based evangelist Franklin Graham arrived Thursday in North Korea, a tightly ruled Communist country cut off from much of the world.

During his four-day visit, the head of Samaritan's Purse Christian relief agency is expected to meet with high government officials, visit relief projects, and preach at a new Protestant church in Pyongyang, the capital city.

According to Graham spokesman Jeremy Blume, he also hopes to approach North Korean officials about developing stronger ties to the officially atheist country. That could include discussions with the officials about improving religious freedom and even building a Christian church there, Blume said.

“I do not come to you today as a politician or diplomat,” Graham said after arriving in Pyongyang, according to a statement released by Blume. “I come to you instead as a minister of Jesus Christ with a message of peace – peace with God, peace in our hearts, and peace with each other.”

This is Graham's second visit to North Korea, though his family has a long history there. In 1934, his mother, Ruth Bell Graham, attended a mission school in Pyongyang. His father, Charlotte-born evangelist Billy Graham, visited in 1992 and 1994, meeting with then-President Kim Il Sung.

In response to floods in North Korea last August, Samaritan's Purse chartered a 747 cargo jet from Charlotte to deliver $8.3 million in medicine and other emergency supplies. It was the first private flight directly from the U.S. to North Korea since the Korean War, according to the statement.

The Boone-based Christian relief agency is also one of five nongovernmental organizations invited to help distribute food in North Korea.

The first shipment of grain arrived this month. The younger Graham also heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Graham's office will post reports on his visit on www. and