Mrs. Foley and I founded Seoul USA ten years ago at a time when private engagement with North Korea (e.g., religious, social, humanitarian) was shaped almost entirely by NGOs in Western nations and South Korea. Our conviction was that engagement with North Korea should be driven by North Koreans.
As Christians, we had—and have—specific focus on issues of Christian faith and practice. Our goal is not to evangelize North Korea ourselves but rather to support and come alongside North Korean underground Christians, North Korean defector Christians in South Korea, and North Korean diaspora Christians who reside illegally or on work contracts in countries like China and Russia in an effort to amplify their voices and augment their effectiveness as they seek to bring transformation to their country.
So, for example, our balloon launch program was conceived by North Korean defectors, developed by North Korean defectors with our participation and support, and carried out by Christians from North Korea, South Korea, and around the world.
Westerners think that North Korea’s problems can be solved by providing food and humanitarian aid. Interestingly, in ten years of our work, we have not met a single North Korean defector or North Korean still inside of North Korea who supports that approach. Yet Westerners have not listened to the voices of North Koreans, so they are puzzled and, sometimes, derogatory, when they see us launch Bibles, instead of food, by balloon.
But Westerners who take the time to listen to North Koreans will come to understand that, in their view, the problem in North Korea is not a lack of food–especially in the southern third of North Korea, where the balloons are designed to reach. There, many people are actually quite prosperous.
Instead, the much more fundamental problem is Juche–North Korea’s official ideology of the worship of Kim Il Sung. Until that is addressed, even the most well-conceived programs of food delivery are condemned to governmental interference and distortion, inadvertently or intentionally reinforcing the regime’s control, not tempering it.
Sum it up and say:
Seoul USA exists so that Westerners can hear a voice other than that of Westerners and South Koreans answering the question, “How can North Korea be transformed?”
We operate our Underground University training school so that North Korean defector Christians can develop their ideas to reach their own country. We don’t teach them Western or South Korean methods but instead teach them how to take their visions and ideas and bring them to reality.
That is how our broadcasting program was birthed. We do 90 minutes of shortwave radio broadcasting into North Korea every night. The program is voiced and developed by North Korean defectors. This is different than many broadcasts into North Korea, which are voiced and written by South Koreans. It explains why our high power signal is more frequently the object of blocking efforts by not only the North Korean government, but, more recently the Chinese government as well.
Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North Korean state, was raised in a Christian home. He rose to power in a state where Christians formed a powerful social voice. He repurposed Christian teaching to make himself the object of worship. As such, Christianity is in a unique position to expose the deception of the North Korean ideology. Only Christianity, in other words, can unmask that North Korea’s Juche ideology is, at root, a fraudulent adaptation of the Christian faith. North Korean defectors know this, and that is why many of their efforts to reach their fellow citizens are Christian-oriented. They understand the power of Christianity in relation to the North Korean government’s deception in particular.
So our vision and goal at Seoul USA is to support North Korean Christians in transforming their country for Christ. This is a recognition of North Korea’s particular historical context, and how North Korea’s ruling Juche ideology is an intentional adaptation/distortion of the Christian faith. Westerners often fail to see this, so they are inclined to think that humanitarian aid is the obvious answer to North Korea’s difficulties. But North Korean defectors do not share this same opinion, though it is their own families that remain in suffering in North Korea. Seoul USA supports their efforts to carry out not our Western insights and plans about reaching North Korea, but their own far superior insights to reach, care for, and transform their own people through the power of the gospel.