People sometimes mistakenly label Dr. Foley and me as “missionaries to North Korea.” Actually, we are not missionaries but rather servants of the persecuted church of North Korea. Everything we do for North Koreans, we do in support of, in partnership with, and at the request of the North Korean church. They set the agenda, the projects, the understanding, and the methods. We act as their proxy and as their most eager students.
It is a good thing that we are not missionaries to North Korea, since it’s now the post-missionary age of North Korea ministry work. Since China’s new religious laws were implemented in February, China has intensified its crackdown on any form of Christianity that is not controlled by or subservient to the state. More than a thousand missionaries have been expelled from China in the past eighteen months. And even in the state controlled churches, crosses—and sometimes even whole church buildings—are torn down. Those who help North Koreans can be arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed.
As a result, many Chinese Churches have turned their backs away from the North Koreans in their midst. With missionaries gone, churches frightened, and true believers driven farther underground, it is tempting to grieve and worry about this new post-missionary age.
But to think like this would be to overlook 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
Even though the Chinese government has the political power and economic strength to expel missionaries, the message of Cross nevertheless remains the wisdom of God and the power of God. That message is foolishness to the powerful but wisdom to the weak. And the Chinese government rarely stops to worry about the weak.
Who are the weak?
They are the North Koreans in China. They lack worldly power or freedom or wealth or even the ability to speak Chinese. They receive the gospel and experience every dimension of its power because it pleases God to reveal himself in this way to them. They do the word of God simply because he has called them, and they have responded in faith and trust. Most of them have no standing in China because they are there illegally, having been sold against their will into marriage with Chinese men.
One of these North Korean woman is named MG. If you met MG, you might be tempted to pity her. Like most sex-trafficked North Korean women, she is poor and suffers from several health problems. Her husband is a Chinese man who doesn’t speak Korean and thus isn’t sure how to interact with MG. He often treats her poorly.
But in her suffering and weakness, MG is a mighty warrior of Christ.
Although MG had no knowledge of Christ before coming to China, she came into contact with one of our discipleship bases and came to know and serve Christ. Through our base she was able to receive:
- A Bible in her own North Korean dialect;
- An MP3 player with the Faith Comes By Hearing dramatized New Testament, Korean hymns, and discipleship materials from the underground church;
- Personal discipleship through the base leader and the base leader’s family.
But none of these things in and of themselves makes a mighty warrior. That can come only through the personal tutelage of the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit loves the weak. Over time, people around MG were amazed by her spiritual growth. Although she had no formal education, the time at our discipleship base equipped her to take up her cross and follow Christ—and to encourage others to do the same.
Even though Chinese churches turn their backs on North Koreans seeking help, a Chinese church in her area sought her out to teach a Bible Study for young North Koreans in China, and to visit other North Koreans in Chinese hospitals.
Although a hospital visit may not sound difficult or impressive, hospital visits in MG’s region of China can be arduous: Villages are remote and so a visit to the hospital can take up an entire day! Often, North Korean women are not able to take public transportation, because they are in China illegally; if they are discovered, they will be returned to North Korea and its labor camps. When MG does her hospital visits, she doesn’t just tell fellow North Koreans to “get well soon.” MG preaches the word that she heard at our discipleship base and teaches them how to reach their husbands, children, and neighbors for Christ.
If MG had gone to a ministry other than VOM Korea, it is quite likely that they would have encouraged her to cut ties with the Chinese man who bought her and escape to South Korea.
But this would have extinguished one of the few remaining lights that Christ has in China. Rather than seeing MG as a victim in need of saving, we see her the way God sees her:
As a hero of the new post-missionary age of North Korean ministry, which is led by great, weak women of God like MG.
Thanks to Margaret Foley and our field team for helping me with this post–and, more importantly, for loving and supporting women like Mrs. MG with the same heart that has characterized VOM Korea for more than 17 years.