NK Christians teach how to go “from victim to victor” in Dr Foley’s new book, The Hero’s Journey

Voice of the Martyrs Korea today announced the release of Dr Hyun Sook Foley’s new book, The Hero’s Journey!

“In this book I am privileged to be able to tell the real-life ‘hero’s journeys’ of ten North Korean Christians,” says Dr Foley. “I share how they and I each learned to give up our ‘victims’ stories’ and become victors in Christ, by coming to understand how Christ tells the story of our lives. The book shows readers how they can experience that same transformation.”

Dr. Foley holds a master’s degree in licensed clinical counseling with a specialization in trauma recovery from Colorado Christian University. She has worked with North Korean underground Christians and North Korean defectors since 2003, when she and I co-founded Voice of the Martyrs Korea.  

”As North Koreans grow up, they have to memorize more than one hundred stories about Kim Il Sung’s life,” says Dr Foley. “Kim Il Sung is the hero of nearly every North Korean’s story. But when North Koreans escape their country, they learn that Kim Il Sung was no hero. They struggle to make sense of life. They quickly accept the stories that others tell them: That they are victims, or even traitors.”

Dr Foley says that when North Korean defectors see themselves as victims, the results are often fatal. “North Korean defectors have the highest rate of death due to suicide of any group in the world,” she says. “That’s why I began coaching North Korean defectors how to retell their stories using the ‘hero’s journey’ framework. It is a way of seeing our life stories differently than we are used to seeing them, because stories involve so many ‘reversals’—events that seem tragic but are actually the gateway to new life.”

Dr Foley says that the hero’s journey framework is especially meaningful to Christians. “The cross of Christ is the greatest reversal in history,” she says. “Jesus says that anyone who follows him must take up their own cross. That means we should expect God to include life-changing reversals in each of our lives as well. We must come to understand God’s purpose for these reversals, and we must be able to tell our life stories, including those reversals, the way God tells them. If we don’t learn to understand and share our life stories in that way, our stories will always have unhappy endings.”

Dr Foley says that she has seen the “hero’s journey” framework make a difference in the lives of North Korean defectors and North Korean Christians. “Every North Korean who participates in our schools and training programs, we have them write up their life story at the beginning of the training,” she says. “Almost always it’s a victim story, where they recount all of the tragedies of their lives. This is how they are taught to think of themselves, even in church. It’s also how North Koreans are taught to tell their stories in books and news articles. Tragedy sells. Victimhood is popular these days. But then after they learn the hero’s journey framework, we have them re-write their stories. They begin to see God’s hand at work, turning even their worst tragedies into victories through Christ. And that changes them. They stop seeing themselves as needy people and instead see themselves as people loved by God who have something important to give to others: their victor’s story.”

Dr Foley says she sees this book as part of their process of giving. “The Hero’s Journey book is not just a book about North Korean Christians. It’s a gift from North Korean Christians to the rest of us. In the book they teach us how to see our own lives differently. And I get to share how they have helped me to see my own life differently also.”

The book is currently available in Korean and English, with Russian and Chinese language versions scheduled for release in mid-2022.

A chapter of the book is available for free preview for a limited time at www.vomkorea.com/product/hj-eng. The book is available for purchase via the same link and also via Amazon.com at https://amzn.to/3oY41q4 for $10.99.

All profits from the book’s sale go toward Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work with underground Christians in North Korea and around the world, and with North Korean defectors in South Korea.

This is truly a great book. I’ve lived the stories in this book with Dr Foley, including her own, and she tells them exceedingly well here. I’m thrilled to see the book entering publication. I’m confident the Lord will use this book to change lives–maybe even yours.

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When Vanya received his Action Bible New Testament, he burst into tears.

It reminded him of his father.

Vanya, a boy living in a “gray zone” in Eastern Ukraine, cried when he received the New Testament because it reminded him of his father, a jailed and missing pastor.

Vanya, a young boy, lives in a village of about a thousand people in the so-called “gray zone” of Eastern Ukraine, an area which formally belongs to Ukraine, but which is under the influence of Russian separatists. Children in the gray zone hear explosions and mortar attacks nearly every day, but they still attend school. It was at the school that Vanya received the Children’s New Testament, at a gathering of about 30 children.

When Vanya received the New Testament he suddenly started crying because it reminded him of his father, who pastored a small local church before being detained and imprisoned after the war broke out. When the event organizers saw Vanya’s reaction, they prayed with him that God would protect his father. Now they now visit Vanya and his mother on a monthly basis, they support them financially and in prayer, and they have begun searching for Vanya’s father with the help of some international organizations.

The Action Bible New Testament Vanya received was one of 40,000 distributed to children in conflict zones throughout Eastern Ukraine in a project funded and executed by a coalition of ministries including Voice of the Martyrs Korea, Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Mission Eurasia, and School Without Walls.

Children at a camp in a conflict zone in Eastern Ukraine receive Action Bible New Testaments. A total of 40,000 were distributed through a project conducted by a coalition of local Christians and ministries including Voice of the Martyrs Korea.

This region has been beset by armed conflict, evangelical persecution, and totalitarian politics since 2014. It was recently named by the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) as the area of Europe where the church suffers the most. Some people might say, “You should wait to distribute Bibles until the fighting subsides,” but for us and the other ministries in our coalition who are supporting the local Christians, we know that any time a major conflict threatens an area, that’s when people turn to God and become open to the Bible. They’re looking for hope. They still have to go to work and to the market and their kids still have to go to school.

Eastern Ukraine, with the conflict zones of Lugansk and Donetsk indicated

Distribution during armed conflicts requires local Christians who have knowledge about an area that outside groups don’t have. The hardest work is always done by local believers. It was not a situation where they could just drive in trucks and hand out 40,000 Children’s Bibles. They had to take great risks and overcome many difficulties to distribute these Action Bible New Testaments to children in each community. They had to cross borders and in most cases move in complete secrecy. They worked with local believers in each place about how and when to move, where to distribute, and to whom. It’s not a project that could have been done by missionaries or short-term mission teams with big budgets.

Even though distribution of the 40,000 Action Bible New Testaments is now complete, the ministry work is still underway. Each Bible was given to a real child with real needs and real problems. Just as with Vanya’s family, local Christians are working with our coalition to locate missing pastors, to help evangelical Christians who are suffering because of their faith, and to answer the questions of children who are excited to learn more about Jesus.

Consider 10-year old Maxim, who came from a nominally Orthodox Christian family in an area controlled by separatists. In the summer he is able to go visit his grandmother in a less restricted part of Ukraine. It was there at a summer camp that he received one of the Action Bible New Testaments. At the end of the summer when he returned home, he took the Bible with him, and now he reads it at home with his family. So the impact extends far beyond the children who received the Bibles originally.

Maxim, age 10, received one of the distributed Bibles at a children’s camp while visiting his grandmother in the summertime. He took the Bible back home to one of the restricted zones in Eastern Ukraine, where he reads the stories with his family members, who were previously nominal Orthodox Christians. 

The ministry coalition estimates that this project impacted more than 100,000 family members and also provided resources to approximately 700 Christian leaders from 126 churches in Eastern Ukraine.

Christians in closed countries know how to reach their neighbors far more effectively and safely than missionaries who come in from the outside and who often have to leave when conflict or Coronavirus comes. Local believers say to us, “Give us the tools”—like these Action Bible New Testaments—”and we will complete the work.” That has been the strategy of Voice of the Martyrs globally since the time of the Cold War, and it continues today, as we resource underground Christians in the more than 70 countries where Christians are persecuted or restricted.

Individuals interested in donating to Voice of the Martyrs Korea to support the work of underground believers can give at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

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Jeju “Mayflower Church” denied asylum, faces potential repatriation to China and persecution

The South Korean government has denied the second appeal for asylum for the 60 members of Shenzen Holy Reformed Church, including its Pastor Pan Yongguang. The group, dubbed the “Mayflower Church” by global religious freedom advocates, fled China in 2019 for Jeju Island, where they have been supporting themselves by doing menial labor during their asylum process. The denial means the group must leave Korea and return to China in the next few weeks.

Dr. Foley teaches the Mayflower church about ways they can Biblically handle the trauma they received as a result of persecution.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea has been training the group for the past two years how to respond to the persecution experts believe they are likely to face upon their return.

The original ship called the Mayflower carried 102 Pilgrims to the ‘New World’ in 1620 as they fled persecution in England. This “modern-day Mayflower” group looks like they will not be granted the religious freedom they were seeking here in Korea, but they still have freedom in Christ, which no government can take away.

The congregation continues to trust God despite the denial of their request. They are a well-trained congregation, not only by us through our persecution training but also by Pan Yongguang, their pastor. The pastor and church members continue to pray that God may yet open a door for asylum in another country like the U.S., but they are fully prepared to be faithful witnesses to Christ no matter what the cost if the Lord sends them back to China.

Pastor Pan founded the church in 2012 under the oversight of Philadelphia Bible Reformed Church in the United States. Because of his connection to the foreign religious group, Pastor Pan began to be interrogated by authorities at least twice a week beginning in 2014. When Pastor Pan refused to affiliate the church with the Chinese Communist Party-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TPSM), authorities pressured the landlord of the building where the church-run elementary school was located to evict them. Church members didn’t want to send their children to state-run schools to be indoctrinated into atheism and communism, so they voted to flee China as a whole church in 2019.

Pastor Pan is pictured with one of the youngest Mayflower Church members.

The group, which consists of twenty-eight adults and thirty-two children, posed as tourists and arrived on Jeju Island with almost nothing. In order to avoid being detained during their departure, they had not communicated their plan to anyone, including us. We learned about them and met them for the first time after they arrived. Along with China Aid and other international organizations which help persecuted Christians, we’ve done what we can to help them. Churches in Jeju have also done a lot. Everyone who meets this group loves them, because they are completely non-political and they are all hard-working. They really just want to worship God freely and educate their children to love and serve the Lord.

In June, the South Korean government denied their original asylum request. They filed an appeal shortly afterward, but according to Representative Foley they were denied a second time on October 5th. Facing a deportation to China on October 19th, they filed yet another appeal, in order not be sent back to China. They are uncertain as to how long they can stay in South Korea.

South Korea only accepted an estimated 0.4% of refugees in 2020.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea concurs with other China persecution watchdog groups China Aid and Christian Solidarity Worldwide that if the “Mayflower Church” returns to China, they will be subject to extreme punishments including imprisonments, forced disappearances, and torture. Recently, the CCP has questioned three of the church’s members who remained in China when the group fled, demanding information about the group and also demanding that the members break off all contact with them.

Pastor Foley talks with Pastor Pan about the Christian persecution in China. 

Voice of the Martyrs Korea will continue to stand with the church and share their story, no matter where they are sent. We’ve come to deeply love and respect Pastor Pan and each of the church members since we first met them and learned of their story when they arrived here in 2019. We’ve trained not only the adults but even the young children again and again what the Bible teaches about persecution in the life of the believer. We know that even if God sends them back to China, it is only because he has an even bigger plan and purpose for them, and they will be faithful.

Four hundred years after the original Mayflower Pilgrims, Christians still remember and are inspired by their story. We will do our best to continue to tell the story of these “modern Mayflower Christians” to inspire and challenge people here in our country and around the world.

Individuals interested in donating to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the house church Christians of China can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donate.

Please note “China” on all donations.

These Mayflower Church children practice the principles of worship so that their families can participate in daily family worship in their homes. 
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