Every Tuesday night, Pastor Eric Foley and Dr Hyun Sook Foley sleep in a camping car in a different campground in the Korean countryside. Their goal is not to take a rest from the hustle and bustle of their daily life in Seoul but instead to help Christians remember what they once knew about the Christian faith but which the Foleys say they have forgotten as Christianity has became wealthier and more socially acceptable over several generations.
“We call it our ‘Preparing for the Underground Church’ campground seminar,” says Dr Hyun Sook Foley, who along with her husband founded Voice of the Martyrs Korea twenty years ago in order to learn from and support persecuted Christians in North Korea.
Today the organization partners with persecuted Christians in more than 70 countries, and the couple regularly travels to share what they have learned from persecuted Christians in speaking events around the world and at churches across Korea, including Korea’s famous megachurches. But according to the Foleys, they are happiest speaking at the weekly campsite events for the small number of Christians who come out to see them in the Korean countryside.
“Back in 2017 my husband wrote a series of three books called the ‘Preparing for the Underground Church’ series, to help Christians in so-called ‘free’ countries prepare for the coming persecution of Christians by remembering what all Christians once knew but which today only Christians in persecuted countries seem to remember,” says Representative Foley. “At the time they were published, Korean Christians said, ‘Why do we need to know these things? Our country is different.’ So few copies were sold. But then COVID hit, and the Sexual Revolution spread across Korea. Today, the books have become best-sellers in Korea and have been translated into several different languages. We receive so many offers from the Korean megachurches who say, ‘Come here, and we’ll gather a thousand pastors for a seminar on preparing for the underground church.’ But Pastor Foley and I realized that a big part of preparing for underground church is going to places where you normally don’t go, and meeting in ways you normally don’t meet. So we declined the offers from the megachurches, purchased a used camping car, and started booking spots at campsites.”
“Each Tuesday night we gather together at the campsite for dinner with the attendees, and we each bring a side dish,” says Representative Foley. “Then after dinner I do a presentation on the history and ministry philosophy of Voice of the Martyrs Korea. The informal setting enables us to continue talking into the evening.”
The main event is on Wednesday, when the Foleys present their one-day “Preparing for the Underground Church” seminar. “It’s not about presenting any special or unique teaching,” says Representative Foley. “In fact, it’s more about setting aside all the special or unique teachings that Korean churches tend to focus on these days and instead getting back to the basic message of the sufficiency of Christ and his word. We remind attendees that the church comes into existence when the word of God is received in faith, and the church goes out of existence when the word of God is no longer received as sufficient. We remind attendees that faithful witness to the sufficiency of Christ is what produces persecution, so persecution should not be feared but rather seen as the world’s act of self-defense against the trust of the gospel. We encourage attendees not to be worried as the Lord removes some of the externals from our churches and our lives that we wrongly assume are necessary to live as faithful believers. It’s really about a return to the basics of the Christian life, which is what persecuted Christians remind us not to forget.”
Representative Foley says that the couple began doing the seminars in the wintertime when temperatures were well below zero. Even then, she said, Christians came.
“We huddled together around the kerosene heater and ate ramyun,” she laughs. “It was a really precious time.”
Now in the warmer weather, Representative Foley says that doing a seminar at a campsite offers distinct advantages. “It’s really a pleasant time,” she says. “We sit outside the camping car and talk on Tuesday evening. We eat outside in the sunshine during the lunch break on Wednesday. Everyone brings food to share. There is time for good conversation and interaction. People always leave feeling like the Lord reminded them of what they once knew but have forgotten amidst the focus on the external, non-essential things of the Christian life.
Typically 10 to 15 people are in attendance, says Representative Foley.
“We don’t charge for the events, and attendees are surprised how freely they are able to interact with us,” she says. “One attendee last week said, ‘Pastor Foley is so famous. I am shocked that I could come and meet and talk with him like this!’ But people who know Pastor Foley will understand that even though he speaks all over the world, it is in small groups like this that he feels the important work of the ministry is done.”
Representative Foley says that the seminar attendees represent a broad range of Korean Christians. “We had a pastor from Gangnam last week, sitting next to a pastor couple from a small Baptist church nearby,” she says. “There are seminary students, seminary dropouts, deacons, elders, Christians who have no position in their churches, and even foreigners.” Attendance requires prior registration through Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s volunteer department and is open to evangelical Protestant Christians.
The Foleys follow a circuit of eight cities, going to a different campsite near each city each week and then beginning the circuit again once they complete their visits. Representative Foley says they plan to continue the seminars well into the future. “Pastor Foley likes to quote the early Korean Christian Kim Gyo Shin. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the countryside to comfort a woodcutter.’ Kim Gyo Shin died before he could follow the Lord’s instruction. So we are taking up that instruction and plan to continue going into the countryside to ‘comfort the woodcutters’ each week as long as the Lord permits us.”
Individuals interested in attending an upcoming “Preparing for the Underground Church” campsite seminar can call Voice of the Martyrs Korea volunteer department at +82-2-2065-0703 for more information.
Pastor Foley’s Preparing for the Underground Church series is available in Korean, English, Russian, and Chinese through the Voice of the Martyrs Korea or via Amazon. The first book, Preparing for the Underground Church, defines “underground church” and helps Christians in so-called “free” countries understand and respond to the growing social hostility toward Christians in these countries. The second book, Planting the Underground Church, offers 12 recommendations to churches on how to operate in a future of heightened government surveillance and control. The third book, Living in the Underground Church, shows how Christians can restore family worship to the central place in church life. Further information on all three books is available at https://vomkorea.com/en/store/ or by calling +82-2-2065-0703.