Medical Missionary to North Korea
I recently finished The Good Doctor, an autobiography by Sai R. Park MD that I picked up during the Urbana Missions Conference this winter. The story is about Dr. Park’s journey from his childhood during war-torn Korea, to his success as a medical doctor in the U.S., and then to his missionary efforts to heal the sick and dying in North Korea!
Dr. Park was able to visit North Korea dozens and dozens of times, healed probably hundreds to thousands of people, and built 2 hospitals on communist ground. The book recounted these experiences and shared fascinating stories about North Korean culture. Some themes that piqued me were: saving face, uncritical zeal, hierarchy, socialism and the state power. In terms of the larger global and political ideas that were presented in the book, I was left with asking:
- When is forgiveness and generosity irresponsible? (The failed Sunshine Policy)
- In what ways are government and culture related? Can a state change its people’s culture?
- What can change another person’s heart? What causes a person to question their beliefs?
Humility and Hope
Dr. Park’s book didn’t attempt to answer these questions nor offer an answer to solve all of North Korean’s problem. Despite his accomplishments, Dr. Park wasn’t a perfect doctor nor a completely selfless humanitarian. He made mistakes and had failures. In light of this, Dr. Park’s life is a testament to being faithful to one’s calling and the humility of healing people in God’s name.
Dr. Park was simply faithful to his calling. He didn’t elevate himself as better as others. Nor did he take credit for the success he did have. He was naive yet relentlessly passionate– brash in his love to serve. He knew his limitations, yet prayed big and hoped big. There were two things that I learned about Christian medical missions in this book:
- A doctor needs humility
- A sick person needs hope
When you read Dr. Park’s incredible stories about refugees and doctors in North Korea, you realize that their are limitations to medicine. There are larger social issues, political issues, cultural issues that can make a person ‘sick’ even if their physical bodies are healed. If this is true, then conversely, a person can be ‘healed’ even if they do not receive medicine or hospital care!
Humility comes from the Hope of God’s Word
The story that struck me the most wasn’t actually about Dr. Park’s encounters with North Koreans (which were many and powerful). But it was a story about Dr. Park’s encounter with a Christian man in an airport before a flight to North Korea. This story taught me the meaning of humility and hope in medicine.
In this story, Dr. Park found himself suddenly febrile, with body aches and chills. Despite his previous successes in bringing medical supplies and treating people in North Korea, Dr. Park started grumbling. He started complaining under his breath. Dr. Park questioned God for how could God let him be sick if he was doing such selfless actions. Just then a young man approached and asked if Dr. Park about the book the young man held in his hand. Dr. Park shrugged him off, thinking it was an English-Chinese dictionary. The young man, feeling embarrassed, left and sat away.
A few minutes later, Dr. Park saw the young man reading the book and realized the young man was praying and simply wanted to show the Bible to Dr. Park. With this insight, Dr. Park went over to the man and shamefully shared that he too was a Christian and on a mission’s trip to North Korea. The young man and Dr. Park began sharing their individual stories about their relationship with God and their favorite Bible verses. The young man shared 1 Peter 1:5-7, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith… may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
At these words Dr. Park’s spirit lit up and he felt repentant for his selfishness. They prayed and were about to leave for their respective flights when Dr. Park asked the young man for his name and contact to keep in touch. At this the young man stated, “You don’t have to remember my name and I don’t have to remember yours. Those are things of this world, things that will perish. Just remember the verse I taught you. I’ll remember the verse you taught me, and someday, we’ll meet each other in heaven. We’ll remember each other through the verses we shared today.”
WOW! Right? As a doctor it is easy to feel entitled and that there are certain things due to you because you help people. Being a doctor makes it harder to remember that it isn’t us who heal, but it is Jesus who heals. In conclusion, read the book and be blessed!