Spirit Sightings

April 27, 2014: Wounded Hands

From Fraser Macnaughton

Where politicians have singularly failed, runners of the world have triumphed. For the first time ever, North Korea opened up the streets of its capital to runner-tourists for the annual Pyongyang marathon, undoubtedly one of the most exotic feathers in any runner’s cap.

No one is under any illusions that the opening of the race to recreational runners is in keeping with the North’s ongoing, but sometimes sporadic, effort to earn cash revenue by boosting tourism, usually with well-orchestrated group tours to major arts performances or attractions the North wants to show off.

“I think a lot of the attraction is the ‘Pyongyang’ part rather than the ‘marathon’ part,” said Simon Cockerell, a Beijing-based agent for the Koryo Tours travel agency. “A lot of the people who went along to take part were interested in simply doing something a bit unusual, something that would cause a bit of cognitive dissonance in friends of theirs when they tell them they ran a marathon in North Korea.”

Cockerell said nearly 200 foreigners signed up for the event, with most having joined packaged group tours to see the sights while they are in Pyongyang.

In the past, the main race has been restricted to a select group of elite runners. Recreational jogging isn’t a part of ordinary North Korean life, but past events have included races for local students and junior runners.

Officials said runners from 27 countries took part this year, including 225 amateurs. Though the race has long featured elite athletes from around the world, the organizers decided to make it easier for fun-runners to join in by requiring only that the course be completed in four hours – so the roads could be reopened – and by also holding a half marathon and a 10 km run. “The marathon has traditionally been open only to professional runners with 2:27 male and 2:38 female cut-off times, making it impossible for even the best recreational runner to participate,” said Andrea Lee, head of Uri Tours, an American company offering tours to North Korea. It brought 20 runners, most of them American. “Generally, the country has become more friendly for tourism,” she said. “This change in policy is in line with what we’ve seen to be the tourism administration’s willingness to explore different tour programs and other avenues to attract tourism.”

Explore… John 20:19–31

  • What are some other examples of times when ordinary people interacting with one another have brought differing groups into closer harmony?
  • Do you think these runners were exploited for political ends, or are making a contribution to peace? Why?
  • What questions might you like to ask one of the participants on their return home from this event?

Prayer links…

The peace of Christ, like the love of God, moves in mysterious ways. Often not our ways. May we be open to the realm of possibilities that Christ’s peace may infuse into our community and our world. Amen

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