It’s now the post-missionary age of NK ministry, and its newest hero is Mrs. MG

People sometimes mistakenly label Dr. Foley and me as “missionaries to North Korea.” Actually, we are not missionaries but rather servants of the persecuted church of North Korea. Everything we do for North Koreans, we do in support of, in partnership with, and at the request of the North Korean church. They set the agenda, the projects, the understanding, and the methods. We act as their proxy and as their most eager students.

It is a good thing that we are not missionaries to North Korea, since it’s now the post-missionary age of North Korea ministry work. Since China’s new religious laws were implemented in February, China has intensified its crackdown on any form of Christianity that is not controlled by or subservient to the state. More than a thousand missionaries have been expelled from China in the past eighteen months. And even in the state controlled churches, crosses—and sometimes even whole church buildings—are torn down. Those who help North Koreans can be arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed.

As a result, many Chinese Churches have turned their backs away from the North Koreans in their midst. With missionaries gone, churches frightened, and true believers driven farther underground, it is tempting to grieve and worry about this new post-missionary age.

But to think like this would be to overlook 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

Even though the Chinese government has the political power and economic strength to expel missionaries, the message of Cross nevertheless remains the wisdom of God and the power of God. That message is foolishness to the powerful but wisdom to the weak. And the Chinese government rarely stops to worry about the weak.

Who are the weak?

They are the North Koreans in China. They lack worldly power or freedom or wealth or even the ability to speak Chinese. They receive the gospel and experience every dimension of its power because it pleases God to reveal himself in this way to them. They do the word of God simply because he has called them, and they have responded in faith and trust. Most of them have no standing in China because they are there illegally, having been sold against their will into marriage with Chinese men.

One of these North Korean woman is named MG. If you met MG, you might be tempted to pity her. Like most sex-trafficked North Korean women, she is poor and suffers from several health problems. Her husband is a Chinese man who doesn’t speak Korean and thus isn’t sure how to interact with MG. He often treats her poorly.

But in her suffering and weakness, MG is a mighty warrior of Christ.

Although MG had no knowledge of Christ before coming to China, she came into contact with one of our discipleship bases and came to know and serve Christ. Through our base she was able to receive:

  1. A Bible in her own North Korean dialect;
  2. An MP3 player with the Faith Comes By Hearing dramatized New Testament, Korean hymns, and discipleship materials from the underground church;
  3. Personal discipleship through the base leader and the base leader’s family.

But none of these things in and of themselves makes a mighty warrior. That can come only through the personal tutelage of the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit loves the weak. Over time, people around MG were amazed by her spiritual growth. Although she had no formal education, the time at our discipleship base equipped her to take up her cross and follow Christ—and to encourage others to do the same.

Even though Chinese churches turn their backs on North Koreans seeking help, a Chinese church in her area sought her out to teach a Bible Study for young North Koreans in China, and to visit other North Koreans in Chinese hospitals.

Although a hospital visit may not sound difficult or impressive, hospital visits in MG’s region of China can be arduous: Villages are remote and so a visit to the hospital can take up an entire day! Often, North Korean women are not able to take public transportation, because they are in China illegally; if they are discovered, they will be returned to North Korea and its labor camps. When MG does her hospital visits, she doesn’t just tell fellow North Koreans to “get well soon.” MG preaches the word that she heard at our discipleship base and teaches them how to reach their husbands, children, and neighbors for Christ.

If MG had gone to a ministry other than VOM Korea, it is quite likely that they would have encouraged her to cut ties with the Chinese man who bought her and escape to South Korea.

But this would have extinguished one of the few remaining lights that Christ has in China. Rather than seeing MG as a victim in need of saving, we see her the way God sees her:

As a hero of the new post-missionary age of North Korean ministry, which is led by great, weak women of God like MG.


Thanks to Margaret Foley and our field team for helping me with this post–and, more importantly, for loving and supporting women like Mrs. MG with the same heart that has characterized VOM Korea for more than 17 years.

Posted in Discipleship, North Korea | Tagged | 2 Comments

More than even our prayers or our money, persecuted Christians need this

“How can we help persecuted Christians?”

It is the question I have been privileged to be asked nearly every day for nearly two decades. Most people assume that the answer must be some combination of prayer and financial giving, and most people assume that the biggest challenges in helping will be in remembering to pray regularly for the persecuted, knowing what to pray, and finding money to give amidst many excellent competing causes.

But after 17 years, I have come to the conclusion that God has ordained the matter of persecution so that something must precede our prayers and our financial giving in order for us to be able to help persecuted believers.

What persecuted Christians need more than our prayers and financial giving is a global church that embraces and trusts the way of the Cross.

Put more personally, what persecuted Christians need is for each of us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ.


Because absent the personal process of dying to ourselves and dying to the world, we will pray for the wrong things for persecuted believers and give to the wrong projects to help them.

Take, for instance, the general state of anxiety and alarm among Christians in response to the proliferation of news stories proclaiming that Christians are now being persecuted more than ever. Such stories create a sense that the persecution of Christians is due to a combination of our neglect/silence/passivity and the neglect/silence/passivity of the governments under which we live. The solution seems clear: We need to end our neglect/silence/passivity and demand that governments end theirs. Then, persecuted Christians can be protected (or, in the language of one recent campaign, saved).

But the fundamental premises of such a view must be subject to serious biblical scrutiny:

  1. Does persecution indicate the absence of God’s activity or blessing, or its presence?
  2. If, as Paul insists in 2 Timothy 3:12, “all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (BSB), who exactly is it who is saving the persecuted Christians?
  3. Why does Hebrews 3:13 not say, “Remember those who are in prison with your prayers and financial giving” or even “Remember those who are in prison and do what you can to help get them out” but instead “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering”? Why is there no mention of those in prison exiting the prison as a result of our remembrance? And why does the remembrance take the form of suffering in the body of the one remembering?

The Cross is always the anchor of the Christian life, the interpretive principle of all of history. Jesus refers to Peter’s admonition to skirt the cross as nothing less than satanic. As our friends at VOM Canada say, ““A cross-centered gospel requires a cross-bearing witness.” Any step that is not a step in the direction of the Cross is, for the disciple, a misstep. In fact, we would always do well to remember that it is the non-persecuted Christian, not the persecuted Christian, who is the biblical oddity.

But if our prayers and our financial gifts must be preceded by a cruciform transformation in our own lives (which Jesus notes as the initial step of discipleship, by the way, not an advanced stage), it is fair to ask: What does that look like in a place where we are not being overtly persecuted?

I have previously written about the early church’s three “colors” of martyrdom. The insight of the early Christians was that the martyr’s physical death differs in degree, but not in kind from the Christian’s death to self and death to the world. As I have written previously, this is why the author of Hebrews can propose that one of the best ways we can remember the martyrs is to stop sinning: because self-denial and persecution are disciplines which are both rooted in taking up our cross.

As I write this, persecution is rising to a new level in China. How should we pray? To what should we give financially? My own sense is that if we are not dying to ourselves, to our own desires and plans and ways of thinking, and if we are not dying to the world, to its desires and plans for us and its ways of thinking, then our prayers and giving will be exceedingly wrong-headed. Instead of seeing the present hour as a major offensive that God is undertaking in China, we will see it as a major offensive that Xi Jinping is undertaking, and a major setback for the work of God.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, NIV).



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An NK Bible Smuggling Story: How God Smuggles Bibles By Transforming Hearts, Not Deceiving Eyes

I met a young North Korean man Sunday who was newly arrived in South Korea. He had defected shortly after completing his mandatory ten year military service. He had caught my attention during the worship service where I was preaching because he held eye contact with me the entire time, had a warm and compassionate face, and showed a lot of calm and poise–traits not often found in North Koreans just beginning to make the adjustment to life outside of North Korea.

In our private conversation he showed unusual insight into English–also rare for North Koreans. He was not fluent, but he had certain phrases memorized (like “nice to meet you”). He looked at our VOMK logo and read slowly, “Voice…of…the…Pilgrim…” (An insightful mis-reading!) He said today NKs all learn English, but in his day they would take the smartest students in middle school and teach them English, and that is where/how he learned.

In the military he had served as a border guard and used his position to do black market trade in cigarettes and rice. He clearly was very smart and fared well. He became a Christian shortly after arriving in South Korea, during his initial interrogation period, of all times.  Since then he has been growing steadily week by week, even participating in daily morning prayer.

But now the smuggling story.

When the young man was a border guard along the river, a middle-aged North Korean woman came across the river on a raft made of inflatable inner tubes. She had a box that was labeled DVDs, but when he searched it he found six Bibles concealed on the bottom. When he saw these, he froze as if dead. He said all NK border guards are told, “If you see the Bible, you are dead,” which he as an intelligent young man understood to mean that if an NK soldier ever reported having seen Bibles, he himself would be heavily interrogated and watched. So in his panic he told the woman, “Never mention this in your life, and I will never mention it in my life,” and he let her in to North Korea with the Bibles.

This is a good reminder that God has his ways of moving hearts and arranging for Bibles to enter into North Korea. Human deception is rarely God’s way. God’s way involves transforming hearts in surprising fashion.

The young man noted that before he became a Christian he had a lot of anxiety. Since he became a Christian, he has had a great peace and calm over him, which was evident to me.

He asked us about a dream he recently had. In the dream he overslept because he was watching Korean dramas. So in the dream he arrived late for the morning prayer service at church. He was supposed to have organized and prepared the worship bulletins, but when he showed up at 6:10, they were blowing freely down the hallway. I showed him James 1:5 and told him always to pray for the interpretation of dreams.

But as I prayed with him, I myself received the interpretation of his dream, which I expressed to the young man through the traditional Korean proverb, “You can’t catch two rabbits.” I told him about Jesus’ admonition that we cannot serve two masters. I explained that the Lord was showing him that he must overcome the temptation to seek both worldly success and Christian service, choosing instead to “seek first the kingdom of God.” The young man was struck by the interpretation, and I laid hands on him and prayed that God would make him a single-minded man in all his ways.

Perhaps you will join me in praying this for him as well.

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