How Do North Korean Defectors Go Through Catechesis?

Dr. Foley teaching UUI’m convinced that Christian catechesis is not only for children who are being confirmed, but important for all Christians everywhere to learn the basics of the faith. And this need isn’t restricted to a particular country or culture. The church has known it since its earliest days. And we see the exact same need within the North Korean underground church, as well as the community of defectors with whom we work.

When defectors comes to South Korea, they immediately enter into a series of resettlement locations. They are typically at such centers for 3 to 6 months, during which time the government decides if they are legitimate defectors or, for example, spies for the North Korean government. If it’s determined that they are legitimate defectors, they then receive an education on how to live and work in South Korean society.

During this time, many of the new defectors go to a Christian chapel service and get baptized. But many of the North Korean defectors who are thus baptized have not actually confessed Jesus Christ with their lips. They are not sure whether they are children of God or not. For them, baptism is just a ceremony to receive a certificate and a nice Bible.

We have come to realize that we need to teach the basic Christian themes and repeat them many times in order for the students to grasp what is being taught. For these North Korean defectors, our Underground Technology (UT) program has become their catechesis training. This past month, we started with the subject of “Creation and Sin” in the first class. Students watched a short animated video of “Adam and Eve” and Dr. Foley explained the stories of how Adam and Eve fell into sin. She also explained to them that we are spiritual beings, teaching them about body, soul and spirit–shocking for North Koreans who are completely indoctrinated in a materialist worldview.

These defectors enter our program as church-attending Christians, but so many of them are only Christians by name even though they may be in church literally every day (at one of Korea’s famed morning prayer services). They don’t truly understand the connection between Jesus’ death and their sins. They don’t understand the difference between a baptism certificate and the personal relationship that they can experience with Jesus. They don’t yet understand how they are a part of the body of Christ.

Christians in the West are not all that different from our North Korean students. Many people go through ceremonies like baptism, communion, or church membership without having a basic understanding of the faith. Some people understand the church ceremonies themselves as being salvific, instead of the grace of God being applied to one’s life through the person and work of Jesus Christ. And many people shy away from catechesis, because it sounds boring, dry and devoid of life.

But in our UT program, instead of being a “sterile” time of learning about the academics of the faith, we find that their eyes light up as truths of the Christian life become real to them, line upon line, precept upon precept through catechesis.

Right after our most recent lesson on Adam and Eve, one of our students (IGH) shared that she always stays at home alone and feels lonely. Whenever she thinks about her children in North Korea, she gets depressed and cries. Immediately, one of our other students invited IGH her house and gave her phone number to her. This same lady was so active and positive in leading the other new students, she even washed the dishes after lunch and encouraged them to do volunteer work together. She was a good model for the other UT students.

For our UT students, catechesis is able to provide a depth and meaning to their new faith that they haven’t experienced before. It helps them understand baptism to be more than just receiving a certificate. It also provides a springboard to be able to serve and minister to the needs of other Christian believers.

About tdillmuth

Pastor Timothy Dillmuth is the Discipleship Pastor of Voice of the Martyrs Korea. He oversees Underground University, a missionary training school for North Korean defectors, and does discipleship training with Christians from all over the world. Pastor Tim received a bachelor's degree from Zion Bible College and an M.Div. from Regent University. He lives with his wife, Melissia and their three children in Seoul, South Korea.
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