Unification News for May 1997
Reluctant Refugees from the Land of Blessing
Interview With Byung Chul Kim
Mr. Byung Chul Kim has been a missionary to Europe since 1990. After becoming national leader in Albania, Mr. Kim helped to increase the church membership from two people to well over one thousand members. On March 14, 1997 fifteen members of the Unification Church of Albania were airlifted to Germany. In addition, the Abel national messiah family was airlifted to the U.S.A. and the Cain national messiah family to Italy. They are now waiting for the situation in Albania to stabilize in order to continue their mission there. Mark Bramwell asked Mr. Byung Chul Kim, currently staying with his family in Frankfurt, to recount his recent experiences in Albania.
Now there is a very dangerous political situation in Albania. Before the present unrest, did you ever need to worry about your safety in Albania?
I have felt danger in other nations, such as Bulgaria, where there is a lot of racism, but not in Albania. A few years ago some thugs took passports and money from our Swiss missionaries, but this was an isolated incident.
In the European Unification Community, Albania is well-known because, compared to other European countries, there have been many participants in the Pre-Blessings. What do you see as the reasons for the relative success of the Albanian Church?
Albania is ethnically homogeneous, unlike other Balkan countries. This has supported the development of close relationships among the people. One positive effect of the very strong communist dictatorship which ruled in Albania is that the country was quite isolated from the rest of the world, almost like a feudal society. This had the effect of protecting Albanians from outside satanic influences such as western decadence. They have been able to maintain strong moral values. Furthermore, there is a large Muslim population in Albania and Muslims believe in strong family morals. For these reasons it is only natural that Albanians find our teaching of "One Family Under God" attractive. The True Family Movement is not just a church but first and foremost a promoter of family values. The True Family Movement is committed to fighting immorality and divorce and supporting good education centering on the motto of living for the sake of others. It transcends all religious and racial divisions. Though the communists destroyed churches-even church buildings-they fortunately did not destroy the family. Albania is rather tribal; it is not unusual to have hundreds of "cousins" and "uncles". The Family Federation is therefore a welcome force for good.
What is the cause of the recent troubles?
Industry in Albania is rather underdeveloped. Many Albanians went to foreign countries and sent their earnings to their families. At first, they did not know how to invest the money. Some began to establish small businesses, such as 24-hour shops. The employment situation in Albania is miserable-even graduates cannot find jobs and have to be satisfied with being waiters in cafés. The housing situation is also bad. Whole families often have to live with their parents. In order to make the large amount of money needed to buy or build their own home or to start a business, thousands of people began to invest their money in pyramid schemes. Even one of our blessed couples sold their apartment and tried to double their money through a pyramid scheme. Some people did get the promised money and the word began to spread that fortunes could easily be made. In the south of the country, one big company was returning between 50% and 100% profits. People became very angry when the bubble finally burst and the profits were not paid out. They believed the government was involved in the scheme and blamed the president for allowing it. It appears that the president received bribery money from the companies. The people wanted the president to resign and they wanted to change the entire government. Everything got out of hand because of the large numbers of rebels. Finally the whole of southern Albania came under their control. Soldiers stood by with no desire to fight as people stole guns and ammunition. Even though the prime minister resigned and a mayor from the south became prime minister, the people still wanted to change the president. Finally the trouble spread to the north and to the capital city, Tirana. Northern Albania had been supporting the president, who comes from that area and chose northern people for his cabinet. The south had been most opposed. This conflict of interests has aggravated the danger of civil war.
At which point did you feel the situation was getting out of hand?
Until the rebels actually arrived in Tirana, no one believed they would. By March 13 they were already 50 km south of Tirana. Now we could hear the gunfire in reality and not just on TV.
What was your reaction?
We were worried about being foreigners and being missionaries, but we nevertheless determined to stay through the troubles. On that day the Italian embassy called upon all Italian nationals to leave. A pregnant Italian sister just made it to the airport before it closed. We had a discussion with the Korean national messiah and it was decided that everyone should leave except me. However, the U.S. and Italian national messiahs were also determined to stay. But when we called the embassy, we found out that the airport and seaports were all closed, so no one could leave.
Then how did our members finally manage to leave?
The Japanese sisters called the Japanese embassy in Austria, which was very surprised that there were more Japanese citizens in Albania. On March 13 we were surrounded by the sound of very loud gunfire. We could not leave the house. I was in the center with my 7-month pregnant wife and our child. My mother called from Korea, relating her memories of the Korean War and saying I must in any case send away my wife and child. I could not tell her that the airport was already closed! We could not sleep and through the window we saw a continuous shower of fiery bullets. At 2am the Japanese embassy in Austria phoned and informed us that the next day in front of the British embassy there would be transportation to the airport. Britain, Germany and other countries had made secret plans to bring out their diplomatic staff (the business people had already left). Despite the danger, I had to leave the center and went to inform our national messiahs and other members. We assembled at our center at 6am and went to the British embassy. Other foreigners were also assembled there. Two Japanese journalists were amazed that eight Japanese sisters were there, and this became big news in Japan. After waiting many hours, a big convoy came to take us to an airfield where we were to be airlifted by helicopters. The rebels began to shoot at the helicopters and so the whole convoy turned around and went back to the embassy. Perhaps this was a ploy to confuse the rebels. We then went in a completely different direction-to a field used as a helicopter landing site. A German helicopter arrived, followed by five others. We number around 70 people. We had to give up our heavy luggage. We were quickly surrounded by Albanian people, hoping to leave with us. The German soldiers got out and afforded us protection as we boarded the helicopter. A cloud of dirt and stones was swept into the air, so that we could hardly open our eyes to see the helicopter. At first I could not make it with my pregnant wife. Also, in the beginning, around 75% of those who boarded were uninvited Albanians. Afterwards, the soldiers began to check our passports. When my family was finally able to board, there were already hundreds of Albanians surrounding us. Suddenly there was shooting from the Albanian army to keep the people at bay. But at that moment we thought there was a shoot-out between the Albanian and German armies and that we were caught in the midst of it. We thought we would all die.
Where did the helicopters take you?
We were taken to Montenegro. There the captain of the helicopter gave us the choice to go to Germany or to stay in Yugoslavia. We chose Germany and boarded a military airplane, arriving four hours later at a Cologne military airbase.
What kind of reception did you receive in Germany?
When we arrived there we were surrounded by journalists and embassy staff to welcome their nationals. The Korean consulate welcomed us and the Japanese embassy prepared a hotel for us. Our story made top news in the Korean media.
What were your emotions at the time of the airlift?
When we boarded the helicopter, one Japanese sister was crying because she wanted to stay. I also wanted to stay. We were preparing for the next Pre-Blessing ceremony and I had planned a Blessing Seminar tour of Albania. We had to cancel all of these. I had hoped we could fulfill our pledged result. Our next goal was 1,000 Couples, holding Blessing ceremonies in the villages. One couple was going to bring 100 couples from their hometown. So my emotions were a mixture of relief and regret. Now we feel like refugees.
Is the mission able to continue in Albania at the present time?
Our native members are still working in Albania, receiving Blessing applications. A young member is reporting to me every day and at the moment is saying that it is too dangerous to return.
What will you and your family now do?
My wife and daughter will probably go back to Japan, though our plan was to give birth to our second child in Albania. Even though we often had to be separated, I feel it is very important that as representatives of the Family Federation we can be seen as a united representative family.
Now you are waiting in Germany and hopefully peace will return to Albania. What are your present reflections?
We are all working to accomplish the 3,600,000 Couples Blessing, so I want to invest everything I have to bring joy to True Parents. Jesus mentioned that the poor people will enter the Heavenly Kingdom first. Albanians are poor-actually the poorest people in Europe-but their heart is rich and they like the idea of the true family, so I-together with President Sa-am still hoping that Albania will make a special contribution to God's providence as the first restored nation in Europe. Through this national crisis, I hope that the Albanian people can all go to God's side and that this upheaval can even serve as a foundation for the nation to receive the Messiah. The Pre-Blessing of 100 Couples took place on March 2, and the national emergency was declared March 3. When peace returns, I hope there can be a mobilization to Albania.
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