Discovering Purpose in DPRK: Why am I Here?

The most difficult thing I have faced living in North Korea is not the traveling, nor the cold winters, nor the primitive conditions inside, but it is the separation. Separation from Stephen as he traveled in and out on his own, but more importantly separation from the work I felt I had been called to do. I had a strong and clear calling for North Korea. Yet, due to political and work constraints, I found myself primarily separated from the work, especially as homeschooling demanded no less than half of every day from me. I did whatever I could from being at home with the kids or jumped at any opportunity that lent itself to me with the time constraints that I had. But still, for the majority of the time, I have had to sit on the sidelines watching my husband and teammates travel in and out and do the work to which I was called. I began to wonder why I was even here, and through my inner struggle I wrote the following poem:

Why am I here?

Why am I here, Lord,

In a place where I don’t belong,

In a foreign land with foreign languages and foreign customs,

Among people who are so hard to reach,

Without a connection in the world,

Alone, so utterly alone.

What is my calling?

What is it that you have gifted me with?

I am so incapable,

Shrinking in my weaknesses,

Overwhelmed by my inabilities,

Without a role or purpose.


Yet, YOU are here, Lord.

And, you have called me here.

I may not be the best worker,

Or servant,

Or even effective in anything that I do.

Yet, I am here for you, Lord.

You may not need me.

You may not even use me.

But, receive my imperfect service all the same.

Help me to love you more.

Fill me with your love

So that others will receive your love through me.


Why am I here?

It is not for work or fame.

It is not because I am the best suited or gifted.

It is not for the effectiveness of ministry

Or for accomplishment of goals.

I am here for you, Lord.

For you -and you alone.


Then after approximately six years of sitting on the sidelines in the Northeast Region while focusing on my own children at home, our family moved to Pyongyang, DPRK. We began sending our children to the Pyongyang Korean School for Foreigners on the Diplomatic Compound in Munsu-Dong, Pyongyang. I found myself for the first time in years having time available for service outside of the home.

As a result, I began accompanying my husband to his work in the hospital. At first, I came just to observe treatment of children with developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy. But then, I noticed that these children, who were making huge strides in their physical abilities through rehabilitation therapy, still did not have much of a future without an education. Many of the children had never received an education and could not even read and write although they were ten or even fourteen years old!

I began advocating for these children’s need for an education. From my experience of teaching in America and homeschooling my own children, slowly small opportunities opened up for me to teach the children in the hospital. Knowing that I needed more expertise to treat children with disabilities, I began studying special education and educational therapy and earned certification in both.

In this way, special education and educational therapy were launched for the first time at the Pyongyang Medical School Hospital. We witnessed some amazing transformations in the children we worked with. One ten-year old girl learned to read and write for the first time in her life. Another nine-year old boy perfected his ability to learn music by ear while learning all of his multiplication and division tables. And finally, a seventeen-year old youth with an expressive language disorder learned to speak and read clearly for the first time in his life!

Teaching cognitive reasoning skills through a science lesson to North Korean children with cerebral palsy

Teaching cognitive reasoning skills through a science lesson to North Korean children with cerebral palsy

For years, I struggled with my purpose of living overseas. I greatly desired to be part of the work that was going around me in North Korea and felt left out as a result. But in the end, these times of struggle ended up being an invaluable time of character formation for me. They taught me that my purpose for being there was not for myself or even for the effectiveness of the humanitarian work that we do there. My ultimate purpose was and is and will always be to serve out of love for my Lord and Savior. And when I finally got my priorities aligned, I was given the most precious gift: to serve and advocate for children with developmental disabilities in North Korea!

Joy Yoon