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U.S. Christian band performs in N. Korea

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Imagine an American Christian rock band going to North Korea, a country accused of being one of the most oppressed in terms of religious freedom, and not only performing a Christian hymn but winning an award for it at an international festival.

That´s what a Grammy Award-winning group, the Casting Crowns, did in April this year.

In fact, the band members learned and sang a North Korean song in Pyongyang, brought a recording of it back to the U.S., and added it as a bonus track to their latest album, released in August. They are on a national tour now, and showing video clips of their performance in North Korea at each concert.

The man who arranged it all is Robert Springs, head of Global Resources Services (GRS) based in Atlanta, who has been actively engaged in North Korea development projects for the last 10 years.

He took the Casting Crowns to the 25th Annual April Spring Art Festival, where the group sang the traditional Christian song "Amazing Grace" and won the award for best duet.

"Several people (North Koreans) came up to us and said they actually knew the tune," Springs told Yonhap over the telephone.

"Some said they even played it at home, on the piano, but didn´t know the words to it."

Did any of it look staged? "No," said Springs. Some of the people from all walks of life in the audience were humming along, he said.

The band also sang, in Korean, "White Dove Fly High," North Korea´s anthem for peace, at three standing-room-only shows in Pyongyang. The Casting Crowns´ version of the song was later included in their latest album.

Jang Chol-sun, vice chairman of the festival, came up to the band and personally thanked them for singing the song.

The group is the fifth U.S. band to perform at the annual festival, but is the most famous one to have done so, according to Springs. Its achievements include a 2006 Grammy for best pop/contemporary gospel album.

Springs brought a country-western band to the festival in 2000.

"I have been trying to take another group ever since then," he said. "I was thinking about it out loud about how to get a group, and my daughter handed me a CD of the Casting Crowns and said, ´You should take this group.´" His 13-year-old daughter, who was adopted from South Korea, traveled to the North with her father and the band for the festival.

Springs´ ties with Korea date back to 1985 when he participated in major construction projects with the government of South Korea´s southern Jeolla Province. His work kept him there for 10 years.

In 1997, after returning to the U.S. and settling in Arizona, he started the GRS with a US$30,000 grant and money from his and his wife´s credit cards. Now the GRS runs on an annual budget of about $3 million with donations from big names including FedEx and DHL as well as successful pharmaceutical companies and a number of faith-based groups.

He has made over 40 trips to North Korea, visiting every province in the country.

"My staff has made a total of some 800 visits over the last 10 years. Almost every month, we have someone over there," Springs said.

The GRS currently has a 10,000-acre dairy farm in the North that produces some 15,000 meals of cheese, butter and yoghurt a day, and another 500-acre soy farm there that makes tofu and soy milk, with the organization planning to soon install a soy oil machine as well.

[The band´s playing of the North Korean song can be seen at:
http://www.castingcrowns.com/site.php?em2960=528_-1__0_~0_-1_10_2007_0_0&content=media&subcontent=videos ]
(Yonhap News Service) 10/15/2007