Years ago, Dr. Foley and I brought the leader of a large North Korean defector organization to Oklahoma to speak at the national conference of our sister mission, Voice of the Martyrs USA. After the North Korean defector gave his speech, a father approached us with his young son. “This is Nathan,” he said. “He’s five years old. Every night before he goes to bed he prays that Kim Jong Il will become a Christian.” “Really?” the North Korean defector leader replied to us, after we translated for him. “I just pray that he dies.”
The North Korean defector’s sentiment is certainly understandable. It is much more difficult for him to pray anything other than imprecations over the North Korean regime. After all, he, his family, and his fellow North Koreans have experienced wave after wave after wave of unmitigated suffering at the hands of three generations of Kims–suffering largely incomprehensible to a five-year old boy from Oklahoma.
But in this case, the boy has spoken true. While praying for Kim Jong Il (and now Kim Jong Un) may be markedly easier for children from Oklahoma, Christ’s command regarding how we are to orient ourselves toward our enemies is clear:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you, so that you may be sons of your Father in the heavens. For He makes His sun rise on evil and good, and He sends rain on righteous and unrighteous. For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what extraordinary are you doing? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You shall be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48, BLB).
What brings this story back to mind for me this week is my growing concern with how Christian ministries are speaking and praying about the North Korea government, and how they are urging their constituents to do the same. I take Romans 14:4 extremely seriously, and I know with certainty that it would not glorify God for me to speak about specific ministries or comments that have raised my concern. But as one of the longer-tenured North Korea ministries and the author of a blog that is from time to time read and referenced by others in our field, I would encourage all of us–not only those leading North Korea-related ministries but all of us who love North Korea and the Lord Jesus–to take special care in how we speak and pray about the North Korean government.
To that end, I offer a few recommendations:
- We should speak and pray about the suffering of all people in North Korea, with special attention to those who suffer for bearing the name of Jesus. As I have noted in this blog repeatedly, it is absolutely indefensible for Christians to refrain from speaking truth about the North Korean government for the sake of building or maintaining a relationship with the North Korean government as a part of a humanitarian or pre-evangelism strategy. There is simply no biblical warrant for silence in the face of suffering, even silence intended as a step on the way to achieving some perceived greater good. Means-end thinking has no place in the Bible, the Christian life, or the Kingdom of God.
- But at the same time, we should not pray for the collapse of the North Korean government or the death of its leaders. That is not our work, nor the instruction we received from our Lord. We are to love our enemies and pray for them even as we speak truth to them. Neither element of this calling may be neglected, abrogated, or emphasized to the exclusion of the other. There is no exceptions or exclusions that may be invoked at some point where either our experience or our intellect beg to differ. It is in the act of our loving and speaking truth in equal measure (and at total personal cost to ourselves and total corporate cost to the body of Christ) that we heap burning coals on our enemy’s heads, cede vengeance to the Lord, and overcome evil with good.
Five-year old Nathan from Oklahoma was right. And in the many moments that I have either been tempted to stay silent or to pray for destruction as we experience the suffering and difficulties that accompany North Korea ministry, the Lord has brought him to my mind. Nathan may not have the burden of personal pain and daily knowledge of evil that many of us in this work have, but we ourselves have something more: Daily firsthand experience of God remaining true to his character as revealed in Scripture, doing again and again and again in relation to North Korea things that only he can do or understand, toward an end and purpose only he can see.
As Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, a prisoner and subject of ghastly torture in his own day, wrote in Tortured for Christ years ago,
God sees things differently than we see them, just as we see differently than an ant. From the human point of view, to be tied to a cross and smeared with excrement is a horrible thing. Nonetheless, the Bible calls the suffering of martyrs “light afflictions.” To be in prison for fourteen years is a long period to us. The Bible calls it “but for a moment,” and tells us that these things are “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). This gives us the right to suppose that the fierce crimes of the Communists, which are inexcusable to us, are lighter in the eyes of God than they are in our eyes. Their tyranny, which has lasted almost an entire century, may be before God, for whom a thousand years are like one day, only a moment of erring astray. They still have the possibility of being saved.
Keep praying, Nathan.