Mission of mercy: Samaritan's Purse airlifts emergency aid to victims of devastating floods in North Korea

A jumbo jet chartered by Samaritan's Purse arrived in North Korea Friday morning, bringing $8 million worth of emergency supplies to flood victims.

The Boeing 747 was loaded Wednesday with 75 tons of supplies, including medicines, water filtration equipment, tools, blankets, and 1,000 rolls of heavy-duty plastic sheeting to build emergency shelters for thousands of families. The historic airlift left Charlotte shortly after midnight on Thursday and landed in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on Friday.

Flights from the United States to North Korea are not usually permitted because of the lack of diplomatic relations between the countries.

"We've been told that this airlift is the first direct flight from the U.S. to North Korea since the Korean War," said Franklin Graham, President and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

North Korea is suffering its worst flooding in decades. About 240,000 homes have been destroyed, some 600 people are dead or missing, and a large portion of the nation's crops have been destroyed.

"In spite of the political differences that divide our two countries, we need to do all we can to care for the people of North Korea," Graham said. "We are praying for the people of North Korea, and we pledge to do all we can in the Name of Jesus Christ to extend a hand of friendship and practical assistance to them during this time of suffering."

The airlift includes antibiotics and other medicines that can be used to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.

The Samaritan's Purse team traveling to North Korea includes a doctor as well as staff members who are experienced in mass-producing emergency shelters in devastated communities. The plane is carrying enough plastic to build shelters for 7,000 families.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's longstanding relations with North Korea helped make the trip possible. Billy Graham visited North Korea in 1992 and 1994, meeting the late leader General Kim Il Sung. Ruth Graham attended high school in Pyongyang in the 1930s, when her parents were medical missionaries in China.

More recently, Franklin Graham traveled to Pyongyang in 2000 to meet with North Korea's foreign minister.

Medical teams from Samaritan's Purse have made several trips to North Korea to upgrade hospitals and clinics and improve the level of care for tuberculosis patients. Thousands of North Korean children have received gift-filled shoe boxes from Operation Christmas Child.