Ben and Liz Torrey ’76 are preparing for the day when north and south korea are reconnected.
The Paektu Trail winds north from the bottom of the Korean Peninsula to the Chinese border, symbolizing for Ben and Liz Torrey ’76 the spiritual connection they yearn to make in that part of the world.
A pastor for the Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America, Ben grew up in Korea, the son of missionaries who founded Jesus Abbey, a prayer and training community project in the Taebaek Mountains in Kangwon Do. Now the executive director of Three Seas Training Center and Fourth River Project, related missionary efforts there, Ben points out that the two Koreas may be connected geographically, but politically and in most other respects, they are miles apart.
The name Fourth River, which was chosen in honor of the trail running through the two countries, represents the River of Life, Ben explains. Three actual rivers originate near Jesus Abbey, flowing from there into the three seas that surround Korea. Their latest effort has become the metaphorical fourth river, which will serve as the research hub for their mission.
The couple’s preparations for the reopening of North Korea came in response to what they describe as “a calling from God.” Their decision to return to the mission that his parents ran followed the death of Ben’s father in 2002. “The sense of calling is stronger than anything else I have experienced in 55 years of life,” he says.
The couple—whose son, Thomas, is a Sarah Lawrence undergraduate—uses the missionary sites to train members of the Body of Christ for service in “South Korea, North Korea and the ends of the earth through study, training, labor, prayer and a common life.” In all, 70 people—members, novices, postulants and children—live at Jesus Abbey. And at a nearby farm, they are raising cattle in the hopes of sending calves to North Korea.
Two three-month training sessions and two three-day sessions are held at the South Korean site each year. “Our February three-day session went on in spite of heavy snows throughout its duration,” Ben recalls. “Everyone had to hike the last mile to the house in the snow carrying their bags. We saw in this a divine intervention to make sure that only the fully committed came. Some fifty people participated, including six North Koreans, several of whom had been in South Korea only weeks or months. It was a truly blessed time of healing, reconciliation and learning.”
Ben, who has been commuting back and forth to missions, said he and Liz will move to a prefabricated modular unit about the size of a cargo container when they settle in and formally lay the foundation for connecting the two halves of the torn country.
“None of us knows how soon North Korea will open, but we believe that it will in the not-too-distant future,” says Ben. “Hence the urgency to learn and share all we can with the many who will pour north when the opportunity comes. We do not want them going in ignorance and insensitivity, which can only do more harm than good, regardless of good intentions.”