Upon hearing the Gospel for the first time, North Koreans sometimes respond by asking, “Why are you copying us?” In back of this comment is the unmistakable similarity of North Korea’s Juche ideology to Christianity.
But when the Gospel does break through the hardscrabble ground of the North Korean heart, the responses are absolutely fascinating, providing us with valuable insights that can help us refine our efforts to make out Gospel presentations to them even more effective.
One of my favorite Seoul USA projects (yes, I know–they’re all my favorite projects) is our Ministry Pack distribution work, which we do wherever North Koreans are found. The packs contain items in high demand by the recipients–everything from axes to medicine to pens–along with either a New Testament or a Bible story book.
We like to use the New Testaments and Bible stories rather than traditional tracts because the North Korean mind is story-shaped. That’s because North Koreans are required to memorize–in every detail–one hundred stories from the life of Kim Il Sung. It’s how they are trained to think about ethics (and, for that matter, everything else in life).
Here are some of the notes written by North Koreans after receiving ministry packs containing one of our Bible story tools. My observations follow each note.
I cried after I received the pack and [Bible story book] which explained the heart of God. I have regretted coming to China. I never imagined that God would prepare these things and pour out His fire to me. I learned so many things and I am going back to NK. I am tired, but I have peace of mind. I will try my best to follow the way of God after I go back to NK. The most important thing is that I have peace of mind. It is not easy to believe God is alive. I will live not for worldly things but for God from now on. I want to choose what makes God happy through my life. [The Bible story tract] touched my heart deeply.
North Koreans who receive the Gospel often describe it instinctively as a “way”–i.e., a way of life, or, in this case “the way of God.” That’s biblical, you know. And what makes it fascinating is that the North Korean comes by this without outside prompting. She’s just responding to the Bible stories she read in the book. You’d almost think the Holy Spirit was involved.
Thank you God for finding me and sending the loving pack to me. Through the [Bible story book], I found another way of life. Many people say that North Korea is the poorest country in the world and say NK people are like beggars. I was so sad and sorry about this. I wondered why I and the North Korean people should be the only one/group to be treated like this. We are all human beings. I could not understand the poor treatment I received in China. One day, one of my companions gave me a green bag. She asked me to read the book inside. So I took the book and read it in the bathroom. It started to touch my hurt heart. Every single word was so warm to me and brought me hope. I realized God forgave my sin through his only Son and God loves me so much. I took the Words of God to my heart. I pray God to be with me to keep me following His Word through my life journey.
Again, fascinating to see the recognition by the North Korean gospel recipient that the “Words of God” are “another way of life”–something we “follow through our life journey” in place of what we were following before. That’s a pretty good definition of what it means to believe–much better than I would have come up with as a new believer. I thought being a believer meant believing a set of propositions. It took more than a few years for those propositions (and a much better and more biblical definition of belief) to dislodge me from my worldly walk. Perhaps that’s why the New Testament doesn’t teach that belief is a set of propositions.
It is a dream of experience to work here in China and to learn many things. I used to think: how can I live today and worry about tomorrow? I have always lived with a heavy heart. However, as I was reading the [Bible story book], I realized that I did not need to look upon the worldly life. I decided to bring up my children by the will of God. When I read the book for the first time, I could not believe it. I was thinking, how could this have happened in this world? However, it was really interesting page after page. I could know we are living in a spiritual world. I will trust God with whatever may happen to my life and put my faith on Him.
That phrase “I could know we are living in a spiritual world” is frequently the insight that precedes acceptance of the Gospel by North Koreans. That’s because the North Korean worldview is emphatically, ruthlessly material. Even when North Koreans pray to Kim Il Sung, they do so with their eyes open looking up at his portrait. More than any other characteristic, the Juche ideology keeps its adherents believing that nothing exists beyond what they can see. That’s why that phrase–“I realized I did not need to look upon the worldly life”–is so powerful. The North Korean Gospel recipient has been freed from her “heavy heart” because she has opened her heart to hope and help from another realm.
As I read this book, I came to have a different view to understand this world. I have regretted coming to China for work. There has been much suffering here and I often go without food. We are just given some vegetables and work until 11 pm. It is a difficult and hard time for me. But I came to know God called me to be in China through this book. Through good people, God is sending what I needed and encouraged me through the words of [the Bible story book]. Thank you, God. I will pray continually to God and depend on Him.
“God called me to be in China through this book.” In other words, life in China is no better than life in North Korea for this woman, but now she believes that God called her to China in order to give her the Gospel–which she describes as “a different view to understand this world.” Her statement that she “will pray continually to God and depend on Him” is an amazing derivation of what faith means–or ought to mean for us Christians.
I always learn a lot about my own faith and about the Christian life when I reflect on how North Koreans receive the Gospel. It helps shape my proclamation more biblically. I hope these brief excerpts may do the same for you.
I’d like to do 1,500 ministry packs for North Koreans in 2014–50% going into North Korea and 50% going to North Koreans living and working (and, sadly, sex trafficked) in China and Russia. That’s a $100,000 proposition–$66 a pack. Should you like to sponsor one or all 1,500, you can do so through on the Seoul USA website. Just write “2014 NK Ministry Packs” in the Notes section of the donation page.