Pastor Tim – This past Saturday, four of our North Korean Underground University students graduated. This means that we are now sending them out to different ministry roles wherever North Koreans are found.
Much of our UU training has to do with scriptural and theological training, but we also teach a year-long course on leadership as part of the curriculum. We firmly believe that in order for our UU students to be successful missionaries, it’s essential that they understand how to be Christ-like leaders.
With the wealth of leadership resources that we have in the US, it may be hard to understand just how incredibly rare biblical leadership training is to the North Korean defector. In North Korea, everyone knows there is only one leader –Kim Il Sung. He is North Korea’s “eternal president,” making North Korea the only necrocracy (country ruled by a dead man) in the world.
This law of “only one leader” spills over into every household, as every residence in North Korea is required to have spotless portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on the best wall. Every child considers Kim Il Sung to be their true father, above and beyond their biological father.
Dr. Foley, President of Voice of the Martyrs Korea wrote in her article, From One “Great Leader” to Many Leaders Who Are Truly Great,
As “Suryong,” or Great Leader, Kim, Jong-Il is the one mind of North Korea. The role of everyone else is to obey. One consequence of this philosophy is that leadership involving
independent thought is equivalent to disloyalty. North Koreans are trained not to be leaders (pg. 25).
Often because of this lack of training, many North Korean defectors tend to use shouting, self-defense, and accusations as leadership strategies. I even remember a former UU student, when faced with a conflict in South Korea, saying, “Either you die or I die!”
That’s why we became convinced of the need for leadership training, and why years ago we worked with John Maxwell and Equip to adapt their leadership training specifically for North Korean defectors. Throughout the course of the year, UU students learn that leadership is something God designed for us since the beginning. Genesis 1:26 says,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
God intended our leadership to be directed not only toward the earth and its creatures but people as well. Matthew 5:16 says,
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The first part of the year focuses on character development, and then the class moves on to nuts and bolts issues like how Christian leaders are to work with people, manage conflict, build teams, and maintain healthy communication.
We’ve found these classes not only personally enriching for the students but also professionally indispensable as they get ready to minister in places like Russia, China, Mongolia and Thailand. They are surprised to learn that leadership is not simply something that a few are born with but rather a skill that can be learned and developed over time. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell says,
Although it’s true that some people are born with greater natural gifts than others, the ability to lead is really a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved (pg. 25).
Although you may not be able to physically join us in our Underground University classes, you can participate in training similar to what our NK missionary trainees receive. Periodically there are training events hosted by John Maxwell and Equip that teach the same powerful, helpful, practical, biblical material that we are teaching our NK students.
Just as North Koreans need leadership training, we too, regardless of our nationality, need take the time and make the effort to grow in the spheres of leadership in which God has placed us.