Sign our petition to help discover “Where is Raymond Koh?”

On February 13, 2017, Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was murdered in the Kuala Lumpur airport. Within five days, Malaysian police were able to identify and apprehend the culprits. They credited CCTV footage for the quick capture.

Also on February 13, 2017 in Malaysia, a car driven by Pastor Raymond Koh was surrounded by at least 15 masked men driving black 4×4 vehicles, and Pastor Koh was kidnapped. The kidnapping happened on public streets, and CCTV footage from both sides of the street recorded the event.

Almost three years later, Malaysian authorities still claim they have no information about the suspicious disappearance of Malaysian Pastor Raymond Koh.

That is why Voice of the Martyrs Korea is encouraging Korean Christians and Christians around the world to support his family by signing our petition to pressure the Malaysian government to uncover the truth.

When Pastor Koh’s wife, Susanna, went to file a report about her missing husband, they focused their questions on whether he had encouraged Muslims to convert to Christianity. Although Malaysia works to portray itself as a ‘moderate’ Muslim nation, converting from Islam to Christianity has become especially controversial in recent years, with many politicians advocating for stronger adherence to Islamic law. Authorities seem to be more concerned about Pastor Koh’s Christian faith than his kidnapping.

Mrs. Koh had to go door-to-door around the area where witnesses last saw Pastor Koh, asking if anyone had CCTV footage of what had happened. Eventually, she found the footage. The first time she watched, Mrs. Koh was shocked.

“It was very professionally done. I couldn’t believe it. I think someone powerful must have ordered my husband’s kidnapping,” Mrs. Koh says.

It is believed that Pastor Koh’s kidnapping may be related to several prior threats he received. Pastor Koh ran a charity organization called Harapan Komuniti (Hope Community) which cared for impoverished single mothers, children, drug addicts, and those who were diagnosed with AIDS.

Some Muslims were upset by the program, viewing it as a trick to convert people to Christianity.

During a dinner the charity hosted in 2011, thirty officers from the Selangor Islamic department stormed in and took photographs of everyone in attendance. Shortly afterwards, the couple began receiving death threats.

The couple also received an envelope labeled “ANTHRAX” and filled with white powder. They also received a parcel containing bullets. Despite this, Pastor Koh continued his ministry.

After Pastor Koh’s disappearance, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) began an independent investigation. In May 2018, a police whistleblower named Sergeant Shamzaini Mohamed Daud came forward, claiming that the Malaysian Special Branch (Cawangan Khas) was involved in Koh’s disappearance. Within that same month, Sergeant Daud lodged a police report denying he had made such claims.

The Kohs continue to follow the judicial process in Malaysia, but there is little hope that it will yield meaningful information or action on its own.

That’s where you can help.

Here is your opportunity to stand together with the wife and family of a truly dedicated servant of God who disappeared nearly three years ago without a trace. Christians around the world are signing a petition urging the Malaysian government to reveal what they know. Voice of the Martyrs Korea is calling on Korean Christians to join their brothers and sisters globally in calling for the whole truth to be revealed.

The online petition is available for signature from now through the end of 2019 at https://vomkorea.com/en/freepastorkoh/. (The petition is also available in Korean, Russian, and Chinese by clicking the flags in the upper right hand corner, so if you have friends in any of those language groups, please share the link with them so that they can sign–and encourage their friends to sign–also.)

Dr. Foley and I plan to deliver the petition to the Malaysian Embassy in Seoul early in the New Year, as the Lord permits.

Posted in Raymond Koh | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Today’s Most Effective North Korean Missionary: A 19th Century Scot

Here’s a piece I wrote with Release International’s Scotland Area Representative James Fraser following Dr. Foley’s and my recent visit.

Every year, hundreds of South Korean and Chinese tourists flock to Scotland. They come for the customary reasons: to see the beauty, the history, and the castles of this blessed land.

But a steady stream of South Korean and Chinese Christians also come annually on a more unique pilgrimage. They come to pay their respects to the 19th Century Scottish missionary John Ross, whom they consider to be one of the fathers of Christianity in their respective countries.

Ross was born in the small north Scotland town of Nigg. He was the minister of a church on Skye before being called to Northeast China in 1872 by the Scottish Union Presbyterian Mission. While serving as a pioneering missionary there, Ross was intrigued by the “hermit kingdom” of Korea, completely closed to foreigners but accessible to trade through the so-called “Corean Gate”. In the midst of vigorous daily engagement with skeptical, interested, and sometimes hostile Chinese residents, Ross also learned Korean from unsuccessful Korean traders. He evangelized these traders by enlisting their help in the creation of the first ever Korean translation of the New Testament, in 1887. A burgeoning “Three-Self” (government registered) church located in Shenyang, China remains the most visible fruit of his considerable efforts in China, the country to which he was officially sent.

After a quiet and uneventful return from China in 1910, he served as a church elder in Edinburgh until passing away in 1915. It is to this church and nearby cemetery that Chinese and South Korean pilgrims are drawn, many dropping in to pray, take photos, and shed moving tears of genuine thanksgiving. John Ross may be remembered (or, more likely, completely forgotten) in his own country as just another 19th century Scottish missionary, but this father of the churches of Korean and Northeast China won’t soon be forgotten by the descendants of those to whom he was sent.

An analysis of John Ross’ missionary methods reveals him to have been a man far ahead of his 19th century time—so far ahead, in fact, that he remains a man yet ahead of his time in the 21st. His missionary methods did not rely on converting sinners, establishing churches, or discipling new believers. His method was simply to present Christ clothed only in the vernacular language of the people—that is, to co-labour with working class non-believers to bring the words of Christ to life in their own everyday speech, and then to get the results into the hands of other working class people, for them to debate, discuss together, and ultimately be transformed by.  

That was the stunning result of his completely serendipitous turn to Korea. Facing the barrier of stigma and risk that prevented Korean merchants from associating with foreigners, he eventually developed relationships with several down-on-their-luck traders. These men were of questionable character and were certainly not Christian, let alone admirable adherents of any religion. But Ross put himself in a position of dependence upon them, regarding them as cultural-linguistic experts in whose hands he sought to entrust a sacred task.  In the process, this most unlikely group of Bible translators brought the words of Christ to life in the marketplace dialect of northwest Korea. And then they were mesmerized by these same words and came to personally know the Lord who first spoke them. At a time when Chinese was the official language of literature and commerce and respectable books in Korean were scarce to non-existent, Ross’s cohort of reprobate evangelists smuggled more than fifteen thousand of these Korean New Testaments from China back into Korea. And thus the Korean church was born. When Appenzeller and Underwood, the first “official” missionaries to Korea, entered the country in 1885, they were beset by hundreds of requests from Koreans for baptism. Perplexed how a country without a missionary could come to know Christ, Appenzeller and Underwood found that Christ had been there before them, in the form of the Ross New Testament. Small covert groups of readers had huddled together around each copy, listening to this marketplace Jesus sharing the words of life in the dialect of a northwest Korean commoner. As more and more Koreans came to know this Jesus, they sought to follow his instruction—”Believe and be baptized”—and this prompted them to beat a path to Appenzeller and Underwood’s doors. Nothing like it had ever happened in the history of Christian mission, before or since.

Today, more than 130 years later, other linguistically superior translations have supplanted the original Ross New Testament, but no missionary method has succeeded or even survived in North Korea other than his. Pitilessly persecuted first by Japanese occupiers and then by the anti-Christian Kim family dynasty of North Korea to whom they gave way, the underground North Korean church still does not have ecclesiastical structures, church buildings, or discipleship programs. Instead, it continues to cling to Christ clothed only in the North Korean vernacular of his word. This is the missionary method of John Ross: Small groups huddled around dog-eared pages (and now digital audio on SD card-loaded smartphones) hearing Jesus speak like a 21st century North Korean black market trader. Through this simple missionary method, sent in the form of 15,000 homely Bibles by a 19th century Scottish missionary who never once lived there, North Korea continues to boast one of the fastest-growing churches in the world despite also boasting arguably the worst sustained persecution in human history.

Ross would be aghast at the thought of a steady stream of pilgrims trekking halfway around the world to pay homage to him at his grave. The closing words of his sadly underappreciated but masterful book, Mission Methods in Manchuria, are as true today as when he first wrote them in 1910: “The greatest and most urgent work now claiming the energy of the Church of Christ is the renovation of China” (and, for that matter, North Korea). Now is not the time for homage to the dead. It is the time for Jesus to speak again, for new ne’er-do-wells to bring the word of life into every nook and cranny vernacular of the Communist-crushed lands of Northeast Asia and beyond. Now is still the time for all of them—and all of us—to huddle together in small groups around dog-eared pages and then respond to the summons to believe and be baptized. It is the only mission method that endures, as the Apostles themselves would attest.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea, the sister mission of Release International, friend of the persecuted church, recently translated John Ross’ Mission Methods in Manchuria into Chinese and Korean for the first time (in the modern vernacular of both countries, of course). After more than a hundred years, Korean and Chinese Christians can study and learn the profoundly simple, profoundly powerful method of the missionary who is yet ahead of his time, whose method is as successful when it is put into practice today as it was when he first put it into practice centuries ago. Sadly, it is a method that is a victim of its own success, having fallen into disuse as churches gain the wherewithal to build the buildings, ecclesiastical structures, and discipleship programs John Ross was convinced (rightly, it turns out) would produce little to no fruit. We have committed to provide free copies of Ross’ masterwork to the Scottish churches along the John Ross pilgrimage road so that when the tearful, grateful pilgrims pause for selfies with their camera phones, their Scottish church hosts can say, “Yes, he was a father and a great man, but have you actually read what he wrote? Here is a free copy of his book, in your own language and vernacular. Perhaps you can carry on his method in your own country today.”

The greatest irony is that Ross’ book is no longer in print in English, not available to be pressed into the hands of this current generation of Scottish Christians who could benefit so greatly from its contents. John Ross might suggest that Nigg, Skye, and Edinburgh of the 21st century are not so very different than China and Korea of the 19th century: Both need to hear Christ speak in our brogue. Perhaps today in North Korea a young man is being raised up who will one day come and visit John Ross’ old haunts, bringing the Scottish speaking Christ with him.

Posted in China, John Ross, North Korea | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The North Korean Sparrow That Fell, and the God Who Noticed

Usually the prisoners we help at Voice of the Martyrs Korea are those who are jailed for their Christian faith. But that’s not the case with Mr. Lee.

Mr. Lee is a North Korean defector incarcerated in a South Korean prison. It was not his faith that put him there, but rather his attempt to pass counterfeit money here in Seoul.

Our North Korean Underground University (UU) students have been visiting Mr. Lee in his South Korean prison for the past 10 months. A considerable part of UU happens outside of the classroom, as UU students learn to do ministry today, reaching North Koreans with the gospel wherever North Koreans are found—including in prison in South Korea.

Though our students have visited Mr. Lee for ten months, he has remained stone-cold silent and seemingly unreachable.

Until this week. Finally, he opened his heart to share stories of his past with us.

What he shared was difficult to hear—even for our North Korean students.

Mr. Lee was born in North Korea. His mother died when he was an infant, so he does not have any memories of her. Beginning even as a young boy, he was abused by his father in almost inconceivable ways. He showed us a scar on his head where his drunken father had hit him with a beer bottle. His father also stabbed him and stoned him. His father was known to be a good person in the town where they lived, but at home he was always a monster.

Mr. Lee was forced to learn at a very young age how to avoid his father’s violence. He sometimes ran out of his house and lived on the street.  When he would return a few days later each time, his father would beat him even more. So, Mr. Lee finally stayed away for a month. Then when he returned, his father no longer beat him.

Mr. Lee and his father went to a village in China when he was ten. He was not allowed to attend school. At age fifteen, his father disappeared. Mr. Lee later heard from one of his father’s friends that his father had been arrested. So, Mr. Lee decided to defect to South Korea.

Mr. Lee was twenty-one years old when he arrived in South Korea. He met a girl on a bus, and they exchanged contact information. They got married a short time later. They now have a five-year old boy.

Mr. Lee was arrested for trying to pass counterfeit money. He says he did not know the money was counterfeit when he received it, and that he did not know how to make a proper defense after he was arrested.

Our Underground University missionary training students have also visited Mr. Lee’s wife several times. It is challenging for her to figure out how to earn money, arrange for a babysitter, and other practical matters that are always challenging to North Korean defectors.

Our UU students cried as Mr. Lee shared his story. Then they told him about his Heavenly Father by sharing the story of the Prodigal Son.

Mr. Lee explained to our North Korean UU students that the reason he shared his painful stories with them is that he thinks they are trustworthy. He believes they are being honest with him, unlike other people.

(The situation is not unlike when we took a different group of our North Korean UU students to a country where North Koreans were being discipled by a very gracious South Korean pastor and his wife. When the pastor and his wife went to bed, the North Korean trainees approached our students privately and asked, “The South Korean says God is real. But you are our countrymen. Tell us the truth!” Always, North Koreans are able to reach other North Koreans for Christ more effectively than any foreigner.)

Our UU students’ consistent care for Mr. Lee and his wife is finally bearing the fruit of trust, after nearly a year of faithful presence. But the real story here is the God who has had his eye on this North Korean sparrow since the start of his very difficult and painful life.

One North Korean woman who became an orphan due to the famine in the 1990s and who was subsequently sex-trafficked to China, told Dr. Foley and me recently, “I have had a lot of difficulties in my life. But it was through those difficulties that I met Christ, so I am thankful for all of it.” Another North Korean met the Lord before defecting, but once he arrived in South Korea he became so focused on making money that he forgot about the Lord completely. Now he is in prison for a murder he committed in a drunken rage—and he realizes that the walls of the prison have been the womb of rebirth.

So-called “more fortunate” Christians seem to call God to account frequently, demanding God to explain why bad things happen to them. But North Korea’s fallen sparrows are far wiser and humbler. Having been knocked to the ground by everyone and everything they know, they are captivated by—and thankful for—the God whom everything must serve, even every evil that assails them.  

Posted in North Korean defector | Tagged , , | Leave a comment