Representatives of the Korea Christian Federation (KCF) of North Korea and the National Council of Churches of South Korea (NCCK) joined church leaders from 34 countries in Geneva, Switzerland earlier this summer under the auspices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) for Bible study, communion, and pledges of further cooperation toward Korean unification. One group, however, was not present at the worship service: North Korean underground Christians.
The Rev. Eric Foley, CEO of Seoul USA, a South Korea-based ministry that supports underground North Korean Christians, calls the omission “embarrassing” in light of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on North Korean human rights violations released earlier this year. “The June Geneva gathering was held on the thirtieth anniversary of the World Council of Church’s Tozanso consultation on North/South church cooperation,” says Foley. “The omission of North Korean underground Christians at that time was understandable–almost no one outside of North Korea knew they even existed. But today, when even a secular body like the United Nations excoriates North Korea for persecuting Christians, the fact that underground Christians did not even make the agenda of this global church gathering is inexcusable.”
Foley notes that the North/South church summit in Geneva was not short on condemning other human rights violations. “The Geneva statement calls on the Japanese government to ‘acknowledge the atrocities of military sexual slavery (comfort women), to present a sincere and honest apology, and to take reparative measures to compensate the victims.’ That no identical request is made on behalf of underground North Korean Christians is, frankly, irresponsible.”
Foley says that more than one hundred thousand Christians worship underground in North Korea, with more than thirty thousand imprisoned in North Korea’s infamous gulags. “It’s unlikely that North Korea would grant these concentration camp Christians furlough to travel to Geneva,” says Foley. “But South Korean Christian leaders are well aware of North Korean underground Christians who have defected to the South and shared the plight of their brothers and sisters.”
Foley hopes that the Geneva delegates will heed the consultation’s call “to record and preserve for future generations the testimonies of the historical witnesses to the pain and suffering of the division of the Korean people along with stories of strength and hope.” He says Seoul USA is particularly committed to the discovery and preservation of the testimonies of the group omitted from the North/South consultation: Underground Christian martyrs from North Korea.