On Not Picking Up Unattended Pencils: The Humble Ethical Witness Of The North Korean Underground Church

SUSA-KoreanNorth Korean underground Christians aren’t only found inside of North Korea. You’ll find them in South Korea, too—or, rather, they’ll find you…if your ministry has a reputation for protecting their identities at all costs. Because even though North Korean underground Christians may defect to South Korea, they can’t very well announce it once they arrive. If they did, their remaining family members—and the church of which they were a part—would be snuffed out in an instant.

So we were delighted recently to visit with a newly arrived underground Christian sister at her apartment in Seoul. She prepared fruits, boiled eggs, bread and juice and welcomed our visit warmly. We worshiped together in the underground North Korean Christian style, and our sister shared her testimony.

Her family was an underground Christian family in North Korea. Her grandmother and grandfather were Christians and her parents were as well. Actually, her father and mother were killed for their faith in God when she was three years old.  So she was raised by her grandmother.

She said that her grandmother taught her many Christian values when she was young. For example, she was not allowed to pick up unattended items like lost pencils. Her grandmother also taught her to appreciate God and help the poor and those in difficult circumstances.

She remembered that she went with her grandmother to an underground church meeting in 1956, as persecution was intensifying to an absolute level. About 20 people gathered in a small house and worshiped. She remembered one praising song, “Singing I go,” which she shared with us.

Most underground Christians share these kinds of stories about their life in North Korea—small stories, daily life and faith. The North Korean Christian stories that make the news always seem to involve valiant witness, torture, executions. But the stories North Korean underground Christians tell about themselves seem to have more to do with successfully resisting the nearly overpowering temptation to filch a pencil left momentarily unattended, thanks be to God.


About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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2 Responses to On Not Picking Up Unattended Pencils: The Humble Ethical Witness Of The North Korean Underground Church

  1. Ted says:

    It took me a moment to realize what was meant by “an unattended item.” I’m assuming it means stealing, but in NK there is no ownership so an item isn’t owned it is only unattended. Is this correct? It’s an interesting way to phrase it.

    A sweet and blessed moment of fellowship and food. So much is written about these types of moments in scripture in the background of Eastern culture and the culture that raised Jesus. Thanks for sharing.

    • Pastor Foley says:

      Good questions, Ted! Actually North Koreans do have a pretty developed concept of personal ownership, though they are far more communitarian than Westerners and South Koreans and they also are encouraged to use their goods to serve their leader. But yes, an “unattended item” would mean stealing.

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