Liberty in North Korea: Cal West Nomads Interview

Bryce Cooley: If you were to describe LINK in a few sentences, what would they be?
Cal West Nomads: Liberty in North Korea is a grassroots non-profit organization that focuses on redefining North Korea by its people by raising awareness about this issue, rescuing, and providing resettlement support to North Korean refugees, and seeking an end to the crisis. We believe that the North Korean people will overcome these challenges and achieve their liberty in our lifetime.

Bryce: What exactly are the challenges faced by the North Korean people?
Nomads: In North Korea, the government denies basic freedoms to every citizen. There is no freedom of speech, religion, information, or movement, and the people are forced to live in extreme poverty. Anyone who challenges the regime’s control faces harsh punishment, which could be being sent to a political prison camp or public execution.

Bryce: What kind of information is available about this? Are there any good documentaries available (including yours of course)?
Nomads: Great questions! Our website has lots of resources and media about the changes happening in North Korea. http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/media/ A few documentaries we’d recommend would be BBC’s Dispatches, Kimjongilia, National Geographic’s Inside North Korea. Good books are Nothing to Envy, The Real North Korea, and Escape from Camp 14.

Bryce: Oh nice! So what exactly is a nomad?
Nomads: Nomads are traveling representatives for the organization and we strongly believe in the value of face-to-face interaction to inspire our peers to get involved. We spend 10 weeks on the road traveling in different parts of North America speaking to thousands of people about the stories of the North Korean people.

Bryce: How has that experience been for you guys?

  • Liam: Exhausting & amazing. Makes you more capable to deal with stress because of how crazy tour life can be.
  • Andrea: Awesome, cool, fun, tiring. EXCITING!
  • Allison: Indescribable. This is actually my second tour, and working for LiNK has been absolutely life-changing. Tour is a whirlwind of constantly meeting people, inspiring and being inspired, and constantly learning about myself, others, and how we can work better together. This is my dream job – getting to work on an issue I care about with amazing people in places I’ve never been!

Bryce: Is the reality of what’s going on in North Korea known to most people you meet?
Nomads: People are typically familiar with the more political aspects of the issue – the nuclear standoff, the Kim family, oppression. However, they usually have never heard about the changes that have been happening in the past years that are being driven by the North Korean people.

Bryce: Do people find the plight of the North Korean people shocking?
Nomads: Definitely – it’s hard to hear about the challenges that the North Korean people face and not want to do something about it. It’s also difficult for us to imagine that something like that could be happening in our world today. That’s why it’s so uplifting and inspiring to hear about how the North Korean people are overcoming these challenges and becoming agents of progress on this issue.

Bryce: So how did each of you hear about / get involved with LINK?

  • Liam: When I was teaching in South Korea, I volunteered for another organization working on this issue and through them, was introduced to LiNK. I learned about the Nomad position on Facebook and decided to apply. Now here I am in California!
  • Andrea: I also worked in South Korea, which is how I became interested in the issue. When I came back to the U.S., a friend of mine heard about this position at LiNK and told me to apply.
  • Allison: I met Nomads when I was a senior in high school and thought they were the coolest people ever so that’s when I knew I wanted to get involved with LiNK. I loved tour so much as a Pacific Northwest Nomad, I decided to apply again after my first tour!

Bryce: It sounds like it’s pretty easy to get involved in LINK!
Nomads: There is definitely a way for everyone to get involved! Just by sharing with your community about the stories of the North Korean people driving changes from inside their own country helps to shift public perception on North Korean from its politics to the amazingly resilient people! If you can afford it, you can donate! Our monthly donors sustain our lifesaving work and 100% of those donations go directly back into our programs. Sometimes, people tend to shy away from donating monthly because it can sound like a lot, but in fact, about 70% of our monthly donors donate $15 or less! Even a small amount like $3 will add up to make a huge impact.

For students, there are Rescue Teams which are clubs on campus that raise awareness about this issue and also raise the funds to rescue refugees. Rescue Teams have been so creative and effective – it goes to show that there is so much that young people can do to impact an issue as big as this one! We meet a lot of college students who want to wait until after graduation to apply for internships, but there is so much to be gained from doing an internship before finishing school. We all agree that education is extremely important, but if you are able, apply to intern or be a Nomad!

Bryce: Sounds like no one really has an excuse not to be involved.
Nomads: Definitely not! Getting involved is easy, and every action makes a difference.

Bryce: So let’s talk change – what are some of the things LINK has been able to accomplish since its inception?
Nomads: As a small organization, we’ve continued to see so much growth through the efforts of our staff and interns. Since 2010, we’ve been able to raise enough funds to rescue 221 refugees! Our resettlement assistance program is constantly growing and allows us to help refugees as they resettle to their new lives in either South Korean or the U.S. Awareness-wise, we are on our 13th national tour and our outreach increases every year.

Bryce: That’s great! Have you had the opportunity to meet any of these resettled refugees? What did you learn from these meetings?
Nomads: I personally have (Allison speaking). We made a documentary about Danny, one of the first North Korean refugees we rescued and resettled in the U.S., and as a Nomad in training last January, I actually had the chance to live with Danny for a few weeks. Danny and I both like photography so we would talk about cameras sometimes. Through these experiences, I learned that it’s very important to remember that the people we talk about every day are people just like you and me. We all have our own interests, things that make us unique, but at the end of the day, we are all people who deserve to be respected and live freely.

Bryce: Can any of you speak to what a Christian’s involvement in the North Korean crisis should be?
Nomads: Sure, but as a disclaimer, we are not a religiously-affiliated organization. We have so much support from the Christian community, and it’s incredibly inspiring to see what Christians have done to empower the North Korean people through our organization. Although it is a Christian’s goal to reach as many people as possible with a certain message, it is also important to remember the value of an individual’s life. Raising funds or donating to our organization so that we can sustain our work is a really tangible way to get involved. We appreciate prayer as well because the North Korean people can use any form of support you have to give. If you want to send prayers our way, you can pray for the safety of North Korean refugees in China, for our staff in SE Asia who work directly with refugees, and for support for the North Korean people to continue growing to help us achieve the vision of liberty in North Korea.

Bryce: I agree, I believe Social Justice issues were close to the heart of our Savior and should be to His followers. The Great Commission is amazing, of course, but we share the Gospel of Christ AND His Gospel of love. The Gospel without love is a “clanging symbol.”

Bryce: You guys are very heavily into Social media. Are there any hashtags or ways that people can interact with you guys via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook?
Nomads: YES! You can follow us on Instagram: @calwestnomads and add us on Facebook: Cal West Nomads (facebook.com/westnomads). If you want to see what our events look like or learn more about what life is like as a Nomad, you can look up #LiNKevents and #LiNKnomads. There is also a LiNK IG and FB: @libertyinnorthkorea and LiNK: Liberty in North Korea (facebook.com/libertyinnk).

Bryce: Out of curiosity, is this choice to be a Nomad tied to any major in College? Last Nomads that came through were all sociology majors? Does “Nomadship” appeal to a specific kind of person? What are some of the challenges and benefits?
Nomads: There are certain majors that might attract students with specific majors more than others, but the Nomad position has gotten attention from all sorts of different people! After meeting lots of former Nomads, we’ve seen that being a Nomad is much more about who you are as a person rather than your interests or educational background. Some students choose to apply for internship credit with their university as well because there are degrees that require internship experience.

Bryce: What would you say it makes to be a successful nomad?
Nomads: Leadership, diligence, passion, major flexibility, ability to work well with and speak to others, and a certain level of bad***ness. Ultimately, lovers of life and liberty with a do-it-at-all-costs attitude.

Bryce: If each of you had one minute how would you sell someone on getting involved with LINK?

  • Liam: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. Be part of the global movement that will drive tyranny from the world and see freedom in North Korea.
  • Andrea: If had a minute to get someone to want to be involved, I would say, “Hey there, this is an awesome opportunity to really get involved personally. If you’re passionate about human rights and interested in making an impact right now then this is definitely something you want to check out. You’ll get to meet awesome people who are just as interested and passionate about making a difference and applying to be a Nomad or intern is definitely worth the time.
  • Allison: Deciding to be a LiNK Nomad was the best decision I ever made. Not only do I get the chance to travel all over California with awesome teammates, I get to meet amazing individuals who come from so many different backgrounds to come together to make an impact on this issue that most people think is hopeless. There is so much change happening in North Korea, and knowing that I can make a difference is so inspiring to me and to the people that we meet!

Check out the Danny in North Korea Documentary below:

Bryce Cooley
I've been doing some form of ministry since 2000. For 13 years I was involved in the youth ministry at Cordova Neighborhood Church as everything from youth intern to youth pastor. God has led me and my lovely wife Bethany to Church of the Foothills where I currently reside as the Digital Publishing Coordinator. I'm excited to see where God leads my wife and I.
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Bryce Cooley
I've been doing some form of ministry since 2000. For 13 years I was involved in the youth ministry at Cordova Neighborhood Church as everything from youth intern to youth pastor. God has led me and my lovely wife Bethany to Church of the Foothills where I currently reside as the Digital Publishing Coordinator. I'm excited to see where God leads my wife and I.