It is the question I am most often asked–at conferences, via email, and in person. It is a very understandable question and also very similar to the question I asked the first North Korean underground Christians I ever met. “How can I pray for you?” I said, with deep concern in my voice.
“You pray for us?” the underground North Korean Christian said with a gentle smile. “We pray for you!”
I was puzzled. After all, we were from the land of the free, the home of the brave. We were the ones who could travel to see them, not the other way around. And we were prepared to put serious money, time, and effort behind the question. My surprise must have been obvious, because my underground brother continued.
“American and South Korean Christians have a strong sense that most problems can eventually be fixed with a combination of money, freedom, and effort. They have a hard time accepting that many situations can only be solved by God’s direct intervention. And God often waits to intervene until we run out of money, freedom, and effort and turn at last to him. Because only then can we really see what it means that he is God.”
It was the first but definitely not the last of the surprising things God has taught me through the North Korean underground church. Whereas I began the work with a strong sense that God was sending me to help them, I have continued to recognize more and more with each passing year that God was sending them to help me. And maybe all of us.
That is why this fall we are proposing what may at first sound like a surprising answer to the question, “What is the best way to help the North Korean underground church?” Perhaps the more you reflect on our proposal, God may lead you to ponder this strange logic and to take us up on our invitation, namely:
For one hundred days this fall, the North Korean underground church will lead the church around the world in worshiping God in the common places of life.
The church in America is facing challenges that money, freedom, and effort can’t solve. Truth is, it always has been: those are the root challenges the church must face in every place and age. The North Korean underground church–and our other persecuted brothers and sisters around the world–are a reminder of that.
And that is why the best way to “help” them…is to follow their lead.
For one hundred days this fall, from mid-September through New Year’s Eve, we’ll be partnering with the North Korean underground church–using their simple but blood stained order of worship along with their leadership, participation, and guidance to do the very thing that got them persecuted in the first place and that continues to lead to their persecution today:
Worshiping in the common places of life.
You see, one of the gravest misconceptions about persecuted Christians–in North Korea or anywhere–is that they slink around and worship in hushed whispers in barely candle-lit corners…until secret police crash through the windows and start beating them with baseball bats. In reality, if Christians cowered in the corners and pretended not to know God in the common places of life, they probably would never be persecuted in the first place.
What got the North Korean church in trouble–first with the Japanese occupiers of the Korean peninsula a century ago, and then with Kim Il Sung a half-century later–is that they refused to make the bargain that American Christians are on the verge of making today. They refused to reduce their faith to a private, personal emotional experience within the walls of their own home or specialized church building. Instead, they insisted on honoring God in the common places of life–their fields, their schools, their factories, their front porches, and, yes, even in front of their government’s idolatrous shrines–and it is for this reason that they were persecuted.
“But I don’t understand,” you may be saying. “I didn’t think North Korean Christians could worship in these common places anymore. I thought they had to hide their worship in the darkened corners of their own homes. I thought that they weren’t even safe in these places. I thought the secret police really did crash through the windows.”
And in some ways you’d be right. (Well, except about the window-crashing thing. The secret police make you disappear silently in the middle of the night. Broken glass is a hindrance to that. This isn’t the comic books, you know.) North Korean underground Christians aren’t out in Kim Il Sung Square with megaphones preaching the gospel as they hand out tracts.
But two things are surprising about what they are doing.
First, for North Korean underground Christians, their homes are public places. North Koreans have a saying: Wherever two or three are gathered together, one of them is spying for the government. And that one may be your wife, your brother, or your childhood best friend who lives next door. When North Koreans hear Matthew 10:36 (“a man’s enemies will be members of his own household”), they nod soberly. In North Korea there is no “private space”–your home is typically just as deadly a common place to worship as right out in front of the Kim Il Sung statue. In a country where neighbors are required to spy on each other–and where you can be declared guilty of a crime simply for not reporting it–only a Westerner would think of home as safe.
Second, North Korean underground Christians are not hunkered down in a defensive posture waiting for the storm of the Kim regime to blow over so they can go about being church again. Persecuted Christianity is the only kind of Christianity that Christians in the northern part of Korea have ever known. They were persecuted under the Japanese when Christianity first arrived. They are persecuted now. So you may be surprised at how North Korean underground Christians manage somehow to worship right under the plastered noses of the idolatrous statues in every city, town, village, and street. North Korean Christians remain true to their heritage of quietly finding ways in the common places of life to affirm that Jesus Christ, not Kim Il Sung, is Lord. As we’ll find out throughout our hundred days of worship campaign, we have an awful lot to learn from North Korean Christians.
So continue to watch this space in the coming weeks as we count down to the campaign. Also, visit our Seoul USA Facebook page to learn more, sign up, and interact with others who are considering following the lead of the North Korean underground church to worship in the common places of their lives. (Yes, parts of the page and some of the posts are in Korean. Don’t be nervous. North Korean defectors can’t speak your language either. So the Facebook page is a bridge for both groups to meet, connect, and grow. As you’ll see once you sign up, language doesn’t stay a barrier for long.)
It is sure to be an exciting and challenging fall–challenging for our country as through this 100 Days campaign American Christians quietly but insistently worship in the common places of daily life, e.g., our front porches, our schools, our workplaces, our coffee shops, our own statued squares, and more; and challenging for us American Christians as we realize the truth of Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12, that persecution is not a possible future state for us but rather the logical, present-moment consequence of being a Christian in the common places of life in every age, including today right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
More on that last thought–and this fall’s campaign–on our Facebook page and in this “common space” next week.