More than 100,000 North Koreans working in China, Russia, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East have been unable to return home due to North Korea’s COVID lockdown. That has created a “window of opportunity” for evangelism which Voice of the Martyrs Korea is seeking to maximize.
Perhaps many of us are accustomed to thinking that COVID-related lockdowns make evangelism difficult, but in the case of NK workers sent out to foreign countries by their government, it has made evangelizing them much easier because they are stuck in their current locations until the lockdown is lifted. In many cases they are undersupplied and quite naturally worried about their families and their own future.
VOMK’s estimate of 100,000 stranded North Korean foreign workers comes from our network of field workers as well as from our consultation with secular analysts who study and monitor North Korean foreign workers.
Reaching the workers requires a customized effort in each location. In some cases, electronic Bibles are the most useful tool. In other cases, printed Bibles draw the most interest. Other workers prefer Bible phone apps or links to online videos, like our Gospel of Mark video.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea uses Christian workers from a variety of backgrounds to reach NK workers. Most NK workers have been trained to be wary of contact with South Koreans, so in most cases local Christians can be more effective Bible distributors than South Korean missionaries. And local construction workers or neighbors or even customers can sometimes have access to workers that pastors and missionaries don’t have. There are sometimes even believers or people who are familiar with or especially open to the Bible among the North Korean workers themselves.
So far in 2021 Voice of the Martyrs Korea has distributed more than 4,500 electronic and print Bibles to NK workers, with plans to try to double that amount by year’s end. (We do not release a more detailed breakdown of distribution by country or Bible type to protect the safety of Bible recipients and our own field workers.)
In most cases, contact with the workers must be very brief and discrete, and follow-up discipleship is often not possible. But we regularly receives letters of thanks sent through our field workers.
The workers’ only exposure to Christianity in most cases is the Bible they receive. They don’t know any Christian “vocabulary”, so their thank-you letters often contain phrases drawn from their daily North Korean life and experience. One NK worker wrote that we should “put Jesus on a pedestal”, which is an expression that is generally reserved only for the Kim family. Similarly, another worker wrote that they should have “single-hearted filial piety and allegiance” to God—a phrase usually used only for North Koreans’ devotion to the Kims. Another worker was worried that writing God’s name could be a security risk, so they referred to God simply as “that person”.
A sample of the thank-you letters Voice of the Martyrs Korea has received this summertime follows:
1. John 6:26-28…The words of Jesus told us that one should not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life. That food is given to us. God gave Jesus authority, so that we should put him on a pedestal and try to live as the Words of Jesus say.
2. Our hearts for the Father who cares for us is more precious than ‘single-hearted filial piety and allegiance’. We will follow you with single-minded devotion. Where else is the Father like you in the world? Even after looking for other fathers, you are the only Father.
3. Until now, we have thought that we have lived without any regret on our conscience. This time, as we listened to the audio Bible, we thought about it for some days. After listening and listening… we had only thought the monkeys became humans and the world was made in that regard. Even our grandparents told us that way. In the strange land, <country name omitted>, we have received amazing glory and affection from you. We had never seen outside world but the Father came to people like us. We were truly blind before, but the audio Bible awakened and opened our eyes and thoughts. We are giving thanks to you who have sent precious gifts and the audio Bible. We will keep it and treasure it, and live as we hear.
4. In His bosom, we will be reborn like a sunflower to trust in you and follow you. We will be your pure daughter, the Father. Our hearts are becoming peaceful while working as listening to your warm voice. It is like our parents whispering and giving advice to us.
More information about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s North Korea ministry is available at https://vomkorea.com/en/project/northkorea/.