We might assume that all North Koreans outside of North Korea have simply escaped the tyrannous regime, but that assumption would be flat out wrong. Over 100,00 North Koreans are on official work release in places like Russia, Mongolia, Africa and the Middle East. It may sound a little exotic to us, but unfortunately these NKs often work very difficult jobs in less than ideal conditions.
Even though the NK workers are often not well-equipped to do their job, it is still very hard to get them to accept gifts from us. Recently one of our ministry teams brought New Year’s gifts to an NK dormitory: socks, underwear, and chocolates. The NK workers proceeded to toss the gifts in a pile and urinate on them. “Why do you do this when you are not wearing any socks and it is so cold outside?” our team leader asked, incredulous. “We have everything we need,” one of the NK workers responded. “We don’t wear socks because we like being barefoot.” In responding this way, the NK workers are carrying out what is required of them: Not embarrassing the Kim regime with the admission that they are poorly provisioned.
Consequently, we’ve had to adapt our evangelism and discipleship strategies to reach these NK workers, but one of the new strategies was initially a little surprising to me – healing and comforting! Healing was always something that I thought took place in churches and revival meeting with those who were already Christians. It was certainly not something that happened in remote NK worker villages with individuals who did not know Christ! But yet when these NKs were sick and hurt, our missionaries were the first ones they reached out to. One of our missionaries recently wrote this,
After I arrived I went to see the NK workers with whom I spoke last time. I learned that a week before a furnace heater exploded in a building. Four NK workers suffered. Immediately I ran to hospital. Two of them were in really bad condition. I spoke with the chief doctor. After a long conversation he let me inside the burn unit. I openly prayed for them and left packages. Out of the other two one refused to speak, but took the pack. With another I had a good talk. In a whisper, he HIMSELF asked me to pray for him (he was very much afraid of death). I prayed, gave gospel literature and a New Testament. I bought some medicine in a drug store. I stayed there almost until the evening, visiting the rest of the people. There are about 70 of them there.
An NK worker asking for helping is extremely rare. It is almost inconceivable that they would accept prayer and a New Testament.
But nothing opens up NK workers to evangelism like illness. Remember that NK workers receive neither medicine nor provision for recovery when they are ill, and most have no money for doctor’s visits or badly-needed prescriptions. So when illness strikes, NK workers will often remember the missionaries who previously expressed care.
It reminds me that God is not bound by people, places and situations and God’s word and healing are not bound by these things either.