Across Pacific & Asia


The Untold Story Of
Initiating The Invitations For Billy Graham's
Historic Trip To North Korea

By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST Communications

PASADENA, CA (January 22, 2001) -- His office at the U.S. Center for World Mission is small and unpretentious, filled with the books, papers and mementos of a life devoted to missions. Style.  At 76, Dr. Dale Kietzman shows few signs of slowing down the prodigious pace and exemplary work productivity characterizing his career.

"He could do the work of ten men," says William Kelley, Director of Christian Stewardship Ministry, who once worked for Dr. Kietzman.  "He has started and encouraged more ministries than anybody I know," he says. "Secretaries would quake when he'd walk down the hall."

Dr. Kietzman served in Mexico, Peru, and Brazil with Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), before becoming Wycliffe's director for North America in the 1970s.  He co-founded Wycliffe Associates, and also headed Every Home for Christ. Now a professor at William Carey International University, he quietly works behind the scenes as an elder statesman, facilitating the ministry goals of many Christian organizations.

"I discovered I could do linguistics," Kietzman says, looking back to his beginnings with Wycliffe. After graduating from Wheaton College, he attended a lecture given by Dr. Kenneth Pike, the legendary linguistic expert, who died recently.  Kietzman remembers the intensity of Dr. Pike's presentation.

"Pike said to the group of recruits, 'So you want to go to the Amazon jungles?  In three years one-third of you will be dead, one-third of you will be invalided and forced home, and the rest of you will be struggling.'"

"I said yes, I want to go to Peru." After spending six months at a jungle camp in Mexico near the Guatemala border, he and his wife, Harriett, were assigned to the Amahuaca tribe in Peru.  "I had a very frustrating experience with this tribe," he says.  "The first time out I got malaria, which wasted me very quickly down to 140 pounds."  Later, he contracted typhoid fever.

"Because of the sicknesses we actually spent more time in administration in Lima than in translation," he says.  His gift of administration began to be recognized, however, as he was placed in increasingly more important leadership roles within Wycliffe.

In these roles he often interacted with William Cameron Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe.  "He was a descendant of farmers and kind of looked that way," says Kietzman. "What was surprising was his boldness.  He could talk to any ambassador or president of a country.  But he was never flashy, and never dressed like a diplomat.

"His technique was always to ask for their help, not with anything difficult, but with something they could easily do, because that would build a friendship.

Townsend would also invite people to eat with him. "After the meal he'd say, 'It's my custom to read from the scripture, because I need my spiritual food.'  So he'd pull out a pocket New Testament and open to John 17 or John 3.  And he'd turn to the most important guest and ask if he would mind reading it.  So this would always open the conversation to spiritual things."

In 1965, Townsend and Kietzman worked together in Washington D.C. to get Lyndon Johnson to declare a national "Bible Translation Day."  Returning to Wycliffe offices in Santa Ana, California, Kietzman began to argue the ministry needed a major reorganization because of the increasing international character of its membership.  In 1971 they took Kietzman's advice, and he became the head of Wycliffe's U.S. operations.  He was also to decide what functions and personnel was U.S. and what was international.

"People told me if you do this kind of reorganization, you'll be unpopular on every side."  With that prediction borne out, Kietzman asked for a service leave in 1973.  During this time, he worked with Wycliffe Associates, which he had founded with Bill Butler, a car dealer from San Diego.

"I wanted to call our new organization 'The Lollards,' but the name never caught on," Kietzman says.  The Lollards were poor priests who followed John Wycliffe in England during the 1300s, making copies of Wycliffe's Bible translations as fast as he could produce them, then reading the new translations in the public square.

"Kietzman is very very intelligent, and had the right background," says Bill Butler, the first president of the new organization  "He understood the difference between missionaries and laymen, which many didn't.  Dale is a quiet guy, yet remarkable in many ways.  He's the most unique guy in missions I ever met.

"Our mission was to turn on the layman and raise support for all the missionaries in the field," Butler says.  "I was yippy-skippy, saying let's get on the road and do it." They started by organizing eight fundraising dinners in Oregon, which brought in $40,000, enough to purchase an airplane for missionary use.  "After this, we thought, 'Why not 50 dinners?'

"In the first two years we doubled their donor list," says Butler.  "They never congratulated me.  They were the insiders and we were the outsiders."

Not long after starting Wycliffe Associates, Kietzman received a card in the mail from Brother Andrew, the Dutch Bible smuggler, who was taking Bibles into Eastern Europe.  "He wanted to join Wycliffe Associates, and put a note on the card asking if he could do anything for us.  At the time, his book, 'God's Smuggler,' was on the bestseller list."  They organized a U.S. tour for Andrew, in which he spoke to thousands, giving a big boost to Wycliffe.

"Brother Andrew is a very friendly guy with a quick wit," says Kietzman. "But he's also a very spiritual person and very earnest about what he wants to do.  He spends a lot of time in prayer and fasting.  He's bold, too.  All of his early ministry he funded himself, and even asked his wife if they could sell their house to fund the ministry."

In 1974 Butler and Kietzman started Christian Resource Management (CRM) to provide help for Brother Andrew.  "About this time Townsend decided he wanted to work in Russia, but it wouldn't look right to have God's Smuggler working for Wycliffe in the U.S.," Kietzman recalls. "So we organized CRM. Brother Andrew immediately introduced Corrie Ten Boom to us and said she needed help, so we did."

After Open Doors was founded for Brother Andrew, Kietzman worked with that organization for ten years.  When he left Open Doors in 1986, he was recruited to be president of Every Home for Christ.  In 1990, Kietzman became executive vice-president of William Carey International University, a part of the U.S. Center for Worlds Mission in Pasadena, California.

At the university, Kietzman found himself in a role he didn't expect, that of international statesman.  Through an unusual series of events, he became involved in significant contacts with North Korea, which paved the way for Billy Graham and Jimmy Carter's historic visits.

"Dr. David Cho, the head of our Korean Studies Center, came to me and said he'd like to get a flow of information started with North Korea," Kietzman recalls.  "He suggested I could write a letter to the National University asking if we could set up an exchange program.  I said sure, what's the name of the president?  He didn't know.  He wasn't even sure of the name of the university, but guessed it was probably Kim Il-Sung University.

"So we wrote to the President, Kim Il-Sung University, Pyongyang, North Korea.  I wasn't even sure if U.S. mail got to North Korea.  It took several months, but we finally got a reply, saying, yes, they would like to study this possibility.  Their reply indicated they had several exchange programs, but these were in Russia and East Germany.

The reply also suggested they were aware William Carey International University had religious ties.  "He said in the letter, 'We have a problem.  We have decided in our history department that we should teach the history of various religions.  We have found someone to teach Buddhist studies, and someone to teach Confucius studies, but we can't find anyone qualified to teach Christianity.'"

When the communist regime was installed in 1948, there were 400,000 Christians in North Korea.  Using the most extreme tactics, the government tried to exterminate all religions in the name of a Marxist dynasty exalting Kim Il-Sung and his son.  Most Christians fled to the south, were martyred, or went underground.  All church buildings were converted to other uses.

"They asked if we could find a qualified professor who speaks Korean.  We immediately identified a Dr. Hong, who had just retired from his church, and was originally from North Korea, and had a doctorate from Fuller Seminary. So I wrote back suggesting him and they accepted him, so Dr. Hong went to North Korea.

"After he had been there several months, we got a letter saying they were very pleased, and could I come over for a visit to finalize the details?  So I went over with Dr. Cho and Dr. Charles Wickman."  The trip took place in 1991.

"I didn't know what to expect.  But Dr. Cho acted as our interpreter, and was very poised in this situation.  We were met with bouquets of flowers at the airport and three Mercedes limousines with little flags flying in front, one for each of us.

"We were taken to a big hotel downtown, and given three private suites.  They began touring us around for several days.  I began to wonder, because all we were doing was touring, and not conducting any business. Finally they told us we would meet the president of the university the next day.

"We had tea and I said, 'How can we work out these details?  And he said, 'Oh, let's just leave that by common consent.'  I was thinking this was crazy.  Then as I was leaving he said, 'You should be prepared, because tonight you're going to have dinner with a very, very, important person.

"So we were taken to a government guest house that evening after dark, and after dark in Pyongyang it's very dark, because they don't have many street lights.  We couldn't tell where they had taken us.

"We were ushered into a sizeable room, and all it had in it was one great big round table.  There were 20 people sitting on cushions around this big table.  I was seated next to a man who spoke English, and he was introduced as the Vice-chairman of the Committee for Reconciliation and Reunification.  I asked him what this meant.  And he said, 'Reconciliation is with the United States and reunification is north and south.'  He was in charge of the whole process.

"After the chit-chat, he said, 'We would like your advice.  How do we impress upon the American people we're not the bad people they think we are?'

"I said Americans need to interact with people before they trust them.  Why don't you let tourists in and maybe there will be a change in attitude?  He said, 'No, they weren't really ready for tourists.'

"I said, 'Well, then, you need to keep inviting key people.'  He said, 'Well we've done that, and they're all very impressed and encouraging while they're here, but after they go back to the states nothing happens.'

"He indicated they had invited Ramsey Clark and Joan Baez and a few others, and I said, 'They're so far off to one side that nobody in the United States believes them.  He said, 'Well who should we invite?'

"I said if you want to impress the American people you should invite someone from the evangelical middle, and he said, 'What in the world is that?'  I explained that Christians are a major influence in the country and if someone of stature from that group came, Americans might listen.  He asked me whom I would recommend.

"How about Billy Graham?"  Everyone at the table was at rapt attention. They had all pulled out steno pads when the conversation began and were taking notes. They looked at each other quizzically, and no one seemed to know who Billy Graham was.

"But the fellow I was talking to said, 'Oh I know who Billy Graham is.' Then Kietzman discovered the individual he was speaking to was Han Si Hae, former North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan years.

  At the time, Jeanne Kirkpatrick was Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the U.N. "She invited me to hear Billy Graham speak at Madison Square Garden," Hae said. "Well, we can take that under advisement...Who else should we invite?"

"I said, 'Jimmy Carter.'  He was the only other person I could think of. They agreed they would take his name under advisement, but he wanted more.

"I told him that in the United States the Bible is the most respected book, and every home has that book.  I said if you could just teach the Bible as literature in your school system, the American people would think North Korea is all right.

"He said, 'Oh-we can do that.'"

The next day Kietzman learned the North Korean dinner group reported directly to Kim Il-Sung.  They met privately with him for 20 minutes, giving a complete report of the previous night's conversation.  At the end of the meeting, he said, "Well, why don't we invite Billy Graham?"

When Kietzman arrived back home in the U.S., the North Koreans called him, and asked him to make sure Billy Graham would accept an invitation. Dr. Wickman called Graham's office in North Carolina.

"We don't even have to ask Dr. Graham," they said.  "We just had a staff meeting and were discussing the places he still wants to go."  Due to his age and health, Dr. Graham recognized he had limited travel time remaining in his life.  "In our meeting he said there is one country that he still wants to minister in-North Korea."

When she was young, Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, attended school in Pyongyang, and this fact became a starting point for Graham to establish a connection. Unfortunately,  Ruth Graham's health would not allow her to accompany her husband.

On Graham's first trip, he was able to spend a half hour meeting with Kim Il-Sung.  He was invited back for a second trip, and spent three hours alone with the communist leader.  Kietzman is certain Billy Graham presented the gospel to Kim Il-Sung during their visit.

"I have no call to North Korea," Kietzman says.  "But when these things happen I feel I have to follow through."

One of the important lessons Kietzman has learned over the years concerns the issue of loyalty.  "Don't develop loyalties that hold you back from doing God's will," he says.  "Some people can't think apart from their organizations."

Today Dr. Kietzman divides his time between the university, and at least a dozen boards - including ASSIST Ministries -- and other Christian organizations he serves.  His heart is still in Latin America, where he had his first mission experience.  "I'm still very much oriented to Bible distribution to the Indians, where I sensed my first call."

Dr. Kietzman serves as President of Latin American Indian Ministries (LAIM). "With translations of the Bible completed, and translation teams reassigned, the tribal churches left behind are fully exposed to a variety of needs and pressures, and, in many cases persecution," he says.  Kietzman and LAIM seek to be a "Barnabas" to their efforts, helping them build a better future.

"I don't see any reason to think I'll ever stop, but I can't carry the administrative load I used to carry," Kietzman says.  "None of us is that important, but we all want to give all we can."

"When Dale Kietzman gets to heaven," says William Kelley, "he's going to have a room in someone else's house, because his house will be so filled up with rewards."

Mark Ellis is a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST Communications.  He is also the Assistant Pastor at Calvary Evangelical Free Church of Laguna Beach, CA. He grew up in Southern California, graduated from U.C. Berkeley, and worked for 18 years in the commercial real estate industry before entering Christian ministry.

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