Impossibilities Made Possible!

Ignis Community has been training a cohort of doctors in North Korea at the Pyongyang Medical School Hospital since 2012. Stephen Yoon, who is Ignis’ Rehabilitation specialist, is directing the development of the Pyongyang Spine Rehabilitation Center (PYSRC) for children with developmental disabilities in the DPRK. The PYSRC will become the first medical graduate specialty training center for children with cerebral palsy, autism, and other developmental disabilities in North Korea. Ignis Community is collaborating with the Ministry of Public Health and KIM IL SUNG University Pyongyang Medical School Hospital to begin two-year specialty post-graduate programs for DPRK medical doctors and develop treatment for children with developmental disabilities.

However, this progress did not occur overnight. It was a very gradual and tedious journey. More than five years of negotiations went into the project in addition to countless hours of treating patients, training doctors, and overseeing the construction of the Rehabilitation Center. There were multiple times along the way that we wondered if we would have to abandon the project all together. This is because it was not simple nor easy bridging the divide that separated our ways of thinking, our system of doing things, and our vision of what we were trying to accomplish. 

In many ways, this project is a dream coming into reality. When we first started working in the NE Region of North Korea, we were told that foreign doctors usually do not have permission to treat common North Korean citizens. As a result, we actually did not have any expectations to be able to treat local people. However, soon after our first visit, about ten doctors were assigned to us to learn from the foreign doctor during treatment hours from 7:30 am to about 9 pm every day.

Stephen Yoon Treating Patients and Training Doctors in Northeast DPRK

Stephen Yoon Treating Patients and Training Doctors in Northeast DPRK

As we were driving up to the clinic the following morning, a long line of people streamed all the way up and out from the clinic. We had hoped for young, healthy, acute patients, but nearly everyone who lined up for treatment was elderly and had chronic conditions.

A lady came in for treatment that day with a condition medical professionals would refer to as "frozen shoulders". She was an elderly lady in her sixties and had not been able to move her shoulders for five years. Daily tasks such as feeding herself, changing her clothes, and any household chores were impossible for her to do.  She was frail and weak, even with three or four layers of clothes on, her bony frame could be easily felt and seen. We explained to her that, "Even if we had the best technology and doctors working with us, we might be able to help you after several months of treatment. To be honest with you, we don't know how much we can help you today, but we will try." Stephen placed his hands on her shoulders.

The next day, the same elderly lady came back for a second treatment. Once again Stephen laid his hands on her. He treated her shoulders as best as he could with the knowledge and skills that he had. Then, by faith, he asked her to try to lift her shoulders. Slowly, but surely, the woman began to lift her arms higher and higher, almost parallel to her shoulders.  Stephen and the eight to ten doctors surrounding him began to shout, "Oh, ooh, oooh!  She's lifting her arms! Their moving!  Oh, I can't believe it! Oh, ooh, oooh!"

It was nothing short of a miracle! Squeals of delighted laughter echoed down the hallway. Medically speaking, it was unexplainable. Who ever heard of five years- long frozen shoulders being healed after two treatments? And miraculously after the third treatment, both arms regained 75% their mobility.

In the same way, we believe that what was once deemed impossible can be transformed into the possible. We have seen it with our own eyes! From miraculous healings to unforeseen provision for our project, we have witnessed seemingly impossible circumstances open up into the possible.

 How did these break-throughs occur? What helped us push through when it seemed like all odds were against us? Years of negotiations, lack of funding, political tensions and many other obstacles have been stacked against us. Yet, despite these challenges, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it looks like our dream just might come to full fruition.

 Three things are needed in working through difficult circumstances: patience, endurance, and faith. We like to think that nothing is impossible in North Korea. It just takes time. It may take so much time that your patience is tried again and again. Not only is the wait long but in the midst of waiting other obstacles and challenges pop up. Patience is not enough. Endurance to keep going and keep working despite all the odds is essential. Patience and endurance may be the most immediate qualities tried, but ultimately, it is up to our faith. We have to believe in what we are doing and for what purposes we are trying to accomplish it. All things are possible only to those who have faith!

Joy Yoon