Monthly Archives: December 2014

North Korean Believers – Shining As Purified Gold

Last week I posted the first part of an interview with Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, which works to help the persecuted Christians of North Korea.

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.

Israel – The Only Mideast Country Where Christianity Is Growing

Last month I interviewed author Lela Gilbert about her new novel The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight, which tells the story of a team of commandoes working to help persecuted Christians. I also reviewed the book, and said:

“The persecution of Christians around the globe, and particularly in the Muslim world, is an escalating terror. Yet too many Western Christians seem uninformed or, at best, aware but unwilling to do much.

“We need more educational resources, in all forms of media, that vividly portray the new reality. That is why novels like “The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” serve such an important role. This is a novel that the church needs to read.”

Lela lives in Israel, so I was able to ask her a few questions about a topic that interests me, the state of Christianity in that country.

Is Christianity growing in Israel? If so, why?

Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community is increasing – and is able to increase. This is not the case in the West Bank, however, because, under the authority of the Palestinian Authority, abuse of Christians by Muslims is usually overlooked or even exacerbated when reported. I wrote about this in my book “Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner.”

Is it easy to be a Christian in Israel?

Israel is a Jewish State and Judaism is much more a part of the daily life of many of the people here than Christianity is in a so-called Christian nation like the US or other Western countries. Judaism and “being Jewish” are the primary identity of Israelis, and tradition as well as faith permeates much of daily life. I have mostly Jewish friends and have been accepted with affection by nearly every one. I let them know I’m a Christian and that I’m a real believer, but I don’t engage in “God-talk” unless the subject arises naturally or I’m asked about my beliefs, etc. I do feel I have far more in common with Jews than with today’s Western nouveau-atheists who are so antagonistic toward all religious faith.

Might Israel become a sanctuary for Mideast Christians who are trying to escape Islamist persecution? Is this happening already?

A few years ago, Israel took in some 600 Darfurian Muslims who fled Sudan; they also took in a number of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. I am less inclined to think they will take in large numbers of Middle Eastern Christians seeking asylum. The population here is very sensitive to infiltrators, and a large number of refugees who are not Jewish and speak Arabic would likely stir up a huge amount of controversy. And, truthfully, many of the Middle Eastern countries who have refugees are exceptionally anti-semitic and anti-Jewish. They would, most likely, reject the idea of coming to Israel – even as a safe haven.

I believe increasing numbers of Christians are enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces. Do you know why this is happening?

Numerous Evangelical Christians – at least in the US – are very attached to Israel and the miraculous regathering of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. They are also sensitive to the times, and many believe we have entered the “end times” or the biblical “last days.” Seeing the encroachment of so many vicious enemies has caused some Christians to review the biblical prophetic passages, to cast their lot with the Jews, and to fight alongside them. This is especially true of young men (and some women) from Jewish families who have become believers in Jesus as Messiah.

I have read about a new Israeli Christian political party, Bnei Brit HaHadasha (called, in English, Sons of the New Testament). Do you know anything about this?

Yes, there is a movement in the Nazareth area, led by a visionary Greek Orthodox priest named Father Gabriel Naddaf, that seeks to inspire young Arabic-speaking Christians to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces and to fight for the one country in the Middle East in which they can be full citizens – Christians who have full rights in a democracy. Most of these people are from ancient Christian churches that never converted to Islam and still speak Aramaic in their church liturgies. Rather than calling themselves “Arab Israelis” they identify as “Arabic-speaking Christian Israelis.” And yes, a political party has also been established.  I wrote about this phenomenon last year for Fox News.

Lela, thank you very much.

“The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A Crucible of Hardship and Suffering – The Church In North Korea

Seoul-based Christian activist and missionary pastor Tim Peters has a particular heart for the oppressed of North Korea. He is the founder of Helping Hands Korea, and of the Ton-A-Month Club, which provides food relief.

At present his 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. 

His 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.

He kindly agreed to answer some questions about his work. The second part of this interview will appear next week.

What do we know of the condition of the underground church in North Korea?

Given the totalitarian grip that the North Korean regime has on its society, communications and media, what we know is limited. Even so, the information we do have is sufficient to confirm that the persecuted church is alive, has endured for over six decades, and, to a large degree, remains in a crucible of hardship and suffering.

Is it growing? 

On the one hand, the fact there is church growth despite the tremendous official opposition is remarkable. On the other hand, I believe we should not be surprised that growth is occurring under persecution. To quote an early church father, Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Particularly in the case of returning North Korean border-crossers who’ve been evangelized in China, we see significant spiritual fervor, genuine sacrifice and bravery in the face of arrest and detention. I feel convinced that much of the new growth of  North Korean believers comes from what I call the “refugee church.”

How is it “fed” spiritually? 

Pastors, evangelists and lay brethren often share the Word verbally, through song, and by sharing precious pages of copied Scripture or exhortation that are taken out of hiding.  In recent years, Bibles and other Christian literature/media are increasingly smuggled in from outside either in printed form, or digitally via USB sticks, etc.

What sort of worship services take place?

As one would expect, services are held in secret: in homes, in remote wooded areas, etc. In urban areas, Christian worship may be as simple as two or three friends meeting in a park and carrying on what seems a normal conversation, but in fact is prayer and praise in subdued voices.

Some North Koreans who have access to a short-wave radio listen to overseas Christian services in Korean.

Many North Korean refugees in China participate in more formal worship services in ethnic Korean-Chinese churches that can be found along the border between North Korea and China.

In China a growing number of the urban elite are apparently becoming Christians. Is there any information on the demographic of North Korean Christians? For example, are they mainly older people, or are young people attracted too?

North Korea is far more difficult than China for collecting such data. Most information from inside North Korean is largely anecdotal. We do know that one of the barriers to child evangelism in North Korean society is fear by parents that spiritually unreceptive children may report their Bible reading or prayers to schoolteachers who are trained to probe their students for this type of information. Such a report can result in the entire family being committed to a prison facility or a labor camp. But once out of the grip of their highly controlled society, both young and old North Koreans very often manifest a noticeable hunger for the Bible and the Christian life.

Learn more at Helping Hands Korea. The second part of this interview will appear next week.