Government statistics indicate that about 35% of North Korean defectors live outside of the Seoul/Incheon/Gyeonggi Province area. Yet only the tiniest fraction of faith-based humanitarian and outreach efforts are directed to them.
That’s why we at Voice of the Martyrs Korea are launching a 500,000,000 KRW (approx. 500,000 USD) initiative to evangelize and disciple North Korean defector “lost sheep” in the South Korean countryside in 2022.
Jesus said if you have a hundred sheep and one gets lost, you should leave the 99 and go find the one. But when it comes to North Korean defectors, most efforts to evangelize and disciple North Korean defectors continue to focus on the Seoul metropolitan area. There are very few churches or ministries reaching out to North Korean defectors in the countryside, yet more than ten thousand North Korean defectors live there.
Involvement with NK defectors in the countryside is the result of the teaching strategy we as a ministry have employed at our missionary training school for North Korean defectors in Seoul over the past 15 years. Voice of the Martyrs Korea uses traditional North Korean underground church methods and materials to train North Koreans to reach other North Koreans for Christ, wherever North Koreans are found. We started with North Korean defector students from Seoul, and they evangelized and discipled North Korean defectors in places like Paju, Yongin, and Yangju. These defectors then evangelized and discipled North Korean defectors in places like Daejeon, Gwangju, Gimhae, and Jeju. And now in this year alone those North Korean defectors have been evangelizing and discipling North Korean defectors in Seosan, Wanju, Gongju, Cheongju, Okcheon, and Wando.
Our mission is expanding rapidly because it is based on the principle that ordinary North Koreans are more effective at reaching other ordinary North Koreans than anyone else. It’s very similar to the Bible women model of the early Korean church. (I should note that most of the defectors in our Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s training schools are older women, active in a local church congregation but without a title, position, or seminary education.) They are just ordinary old North Korean defector women who love the Bible and who have learned how to use it to introduce other defectors to Jesus and how to apply his teachings to their lives.
There is no available list of names and addresses of defectors living in the countryside. Instead, Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s NK defector students must use word of mouth to make contacts and plan trips to visit them. Sometimes they are able to track down a defector who is now living in the countryside whom they met when they first came to Korea. Sometimes they get the name of a North Korean defector “friend of a friend” who married and moved to the countryside. They then call that defector in the countryside and set a time to visit. Then they work with us to get there. Sometimes we go by bus. Sometimes we go by train. This year we bought a used RV to drive to these places which are often very far out in the countryside. Our visitation schedule in the countryside is now so full that we are working to purchase a second RV and hire a driver.
While Voice of the Martyrs Korea staff always accompany the students, the students are the ministers. When North Koreans meet other North Koreans, even a short visit can accomplish a lot. Ordinary North Koreans can talk frankly about common experiences using a common language without being embarrassed. Even the Bible we use is a North Korean dialect Bible, which they understand much better than other Korean translations.
The living conditions of North Korean defector women in the countryside are often tragically similar to those of sex-trafficked North Korean women living in China. One North Korean defector woman we met in the countryside is married to a South Korean man who is extremely jealous and possessive. He made his defector wife quit her job and stay at home all day every day, and he set up CCTV all over their house so he can watch her when he is not home. Whenever she goes out, he calls her repeatedly to check up on her. But our student is just an old North Korean defector woman. When she visited their home, the husband wasn’t there but could see her on the CCTV, so he was not suspicious. Our North Korean student could empathize with the North Korean wife immediately, and she was able to share the gospel and share wisdom from the Bible about how to pray and what to do. She told the woman, “God has given you all this time at home, so you can read the Bible and pray.” She gave the woman a Bible, and the woman clutched it tightly and said, “I will surely believe in God. He is very much knocking at my door.”
The outreach to North Korean defectors in the countryside is a missed opportunity of the Korean church. It’s popular these days for South Korean churches to each adopt different cities in North Korea and to set aside money to plant churches there some day in the future. But what we are seeing happen today is North Korean defectors each adopting different cities in South Korea and reaching the North Korean defector ‘lost sheep’ who live in these cities. God is using these ordinary North Korean defectors to turn the traditional South Korean model for North Korean evangelism upside down.
The Coronavirus has also played a role in our shift to focus on the countryside. In following the Coronavirus restrictions, it became impossible to continue to gather our large number of students together for class. We prayed, “Lord, what do you want us to do now?” And at that time we received a phone call from a few North Korean defectors in Daejeon, asking us to go down there to teach them. We realized that God was using the Coronavirus to shift us away from a “gathering” model to a “going” model. So we shut down the classroom and told our students, “It’s time for us all to go out to the countryside and reach every lost North Korean defector sheep, one at a time.” We started going out the next week. We typically drive hours to visit one or two defectors in one or two homes in the countryside. And the Lord pours out his Spirit. You can feel his good pleasure with this work. The farther out in the countryside we go just to meet one lost North Korean defector sheep, we rediscover the spiritual power and fruit of the early Korean church.
More information about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s outreach to North Korean defectors in the South Korean countryside is available at https://vomkorea.com/en/project/northkorea/uu-school/.