The group’s work is largely concentrated on the Sino-North Korean border – the “underground railroad” – helping refugees, providing foster care to orphaned children of female North Korean human traffic victims in China who have been forcibly repatriated to the DPRK without their children, and sending food, clothing and medicine into the persecuted and underground North Korean church.
The group’s “Catacombs” worship is held in a small rented art gallery in an undistinguished neighborhood in central Seoul. Every Tuesday an open forum is convened (open to all, not only Christians) in the Catacombs venue, during which the plight of North Koreans, including the persecuted church, is openly discussed and debated, and strategies for more effective NGO projects and Christian ministry are discussed.
As a forceful advocate for the rights of North Koreans, Tim has also testified before the US Congress and has been featured in numerous international news reports.
Here is the second part of my interview.
Pyongyang was once known as the Jerusalem of the East, for its strong Christian witness. Is there the possibility that a free North Korea could once again become a beacon of faith, perhaps seeded by the martyrs of today?
I do think such a phenomenon is a distinct possibility. Just as the generation of persecuted Chinese believers grew into strong leaders when greater freedom came to China, I do feel that many North Korean believers will shine as purified gold once the Kim family regime is dethroned in the North.
This would be all the more true because many South Korean Protestant churches are undergoing a serious crisis due to materialism and authoritarian leadership, among other challenges. North Korean Christians, in their simplicity, humility and utter dependence on God, could constitute just the antidote to the spiritual maladies in the South.
Could you please say a little about your own work in helping North Korean Christians.
From the very beginning of our Helping Hands Korea_Catacombs work in 1996, we have placed a special emphasis on helping refugees fleeing the DPRK, including orphans, the sick, the persecuted, and victims of human trafficking in China. We have endeavored to share the gospel along with meeting their humanitarian needs.
In so many ways, North Koreans have become an unreached people after 67 years of a highly enforced anti-Christian political ideology. Often our work has been compared to that of Christian abolitionists in the mid-19th century who worked to help the slaves in the US Confederacy make their way to freedom in the North along the so-called underground railroad.
Another aspect of this work is helping and evangelizing the children of female North Korean victims of human trafficking who have been orphaned when their mothers have been forcibly repatriated by Chinese security officials to North Korea without their children.
In the past four to five years HHK_Catacombs has taken on the additional role of assisting underground believers who remain inside North Korea, with food, clothing and medicine. Locating an authentic, secure and sustainable channel to carry out this task took us 14 years of searching!
Western Christians can pray and give money to help our imprisoned brothers and sisters in North Korea. But is there more we can, or should, be doing?
Let me first briefly touch on your first two points: prayer IS surely important because without it, the challenges inherent in this kind of work can seem overwhelming. Fund-raising is also crucial since little in the way of practical help in any of our projects can go forward without material support. Activities such as raising awareness and advocating for the adoption by the UN Security Council of the resolutions in the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on North Korean Human Rights are also important.
But ultimately, as the New Testament makes clear, the greatest need is not money or advocacy, but laborers. “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few,” (Mt.9:37) Jesus said. What was true 2,000 years ago is also true today. And my prayer is Mt. 9:38: that He will send more laborers into the harvest. Not all can come to the field in East Asia, but each can take heed and answer His call to the station where he/she can be most effective. Are we willing to drop everything and do as the Master said? “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men!” (Mt. 4:19) I’ve never yet met a servant of the Lord who regretted giving his/her all to the King of kings!
Tim, thank you very much.
Learn more at Helping Hands Korea.