We should not plant SK/Western-style churches in NK. But we should plant NK-style churches in SK and the West

Dr Foley and I spoke at the Bukkichong North Korean Defector Pastors Association summer retreat on August 10. We urged the association members to become proficient in North Korean underground church planting methods and to apply these in both North and South Korea, instead of using South Korean and Western methods.

Here’s why:

Years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed, Western missionaries rushed in to Russia, bringing their Western church planting methods with them. It made our Voice of the Martyrs founder, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand sad. The Western missionaries wrongly acted as if both Communism and the underground Russian church had failed, when in reality the underground Russian church was spiritually stronger than the church in the West. Pastor Wurmbrand said that Western Christians should rush in to Russia, but only for the purpose of sitting at the feet of the underground Russian Christians who remained faithful witnesses under Communism.

Pastor Eric Foley and Dr. Hyun Sook Foley address North Korean defector pastors at the Bukkichong North Korean Defector Pastors Association summer retreat on August 10.

We told the North Korean defector pastors, “God has not called you to bring South Korean Christianity to North Korean people. The North Korean underground church is not defeated. It is the South Korean church that is defeated and in need of repentance and revival. It has lost its spiritual strength. It needs to sit at the feet of the North Korean underground Christians who have faithfully kept the word of God alive under four generations of Communist persecution.”

We wrongly think because the South Korean church has money and buildings and seminaries, God has said ‘yes’ to it, and because the North Korean underground church faces constant persecution and has no earthly treasure, that God has said ‘no’ to it. But this is human thinking, not God’s thinking. Despite fierce persecution, the North Korean underground church has been growing at the same time the South Korean church has been mired in decades of numeric decline, according to most estimates.

Dr Foley and I referred to the North Korean underground church as “the church built according to the John Ross method” and the South Korean church as “the church built according to the method of Appenzeller, Underwood, and Allen”. Missionary John Ross’ strategy was simple: Translate the Bible. Distribute it. Trust that as people read it, they would meet Christ because he is fully present in his word. Meanwhile, the method of Appenzeller, Underwood, and Allen was a humanitarian aid-based outreach strategy in which Koreans’ interest in Christianity came through a demonstration of its power and attractiveness, especially through the creation of social institutions like schools, orphanages, and hospitals.

At first it would appear that the method of Appenzeller, Underwood, and Allen was more effective. But today the social institutions founded by the earliest missionaries have become secular and no longer advance the gospel. In fact, many of these formerly Christian universities are increasingly hostile to the Christian faith.

By contrast, the method of John Ross has enabled North Korean underground churches to survive the destruction of all the church-related institutions planted by missionaries. Unlike the shrinking South Korean church of Appenzeller, Underwood, and Allen, nothing that has descended from the North Korean underground church of John Ross has been lost.

Growing hostility against Christianity in South Korea will require the South Korean church to rely increasingly on Ross’ Bible-only method. The Lord Jesus warned us in his word that from now until the day he returns, we will face more and more hostility from the world, not less—even here in South Korea. The time is here when the Lord’s people can no longer freely worship or drink coffee or meet in their church buildings, or be trained and receive certificates in person at their seminaries, or have enough money to fund church planting projects in North Korea in 2028, such as has been planned. The time is here in which the Lord intends to lead his people out of buildings and out of seminaries and out of a humanitarian aid mindset so that he can be present to his people through his word alone—the Bible—and to have his people meet with him in the ordinary places of their everyday lives, not mediated by pastors or buildings or megachurch programs.

Many South Koreans and even some North Korean defector pastors continue to doubt the existence of the underground North Korean church. The reason why is that they use the characteristics of the South Korean church–ordained pastors, church buildings, corporate Christian worship–as their criteria to answer the question. They then conclude, no, there are no ordained pastors, church buildings, or corporate Christian worship in North Korea, so there is no underground North Korean church.

But after 70 years of data gathering we know now with certainty that the North Korean underground church exists. We can trace its continuous existence back to the entry of the gospel into South Korea through the work of John Ross. In fact, we actually know quite a bit about the characteristics of the North Korean underground church, its worship and discipleship practices, and even some of its history and some of its people, especially its martyrs. The book I wrote with underground North Korean Christians, These are the Generations, documents the existence and practices of the North Korean underground church and advocates their emulation by South Korean and Western Christians.

North Korean Christianity is the true heir of the earliest Korean Christians, who were called ‘Bible Christians’. God is pruning the South Korean church of its Western style Christianity that is built on pastors and seminaries and ordination and denominations and humanitarian aid-style outreach strategies and coffee shops. He intends that the NK underground church will purify and revive South Korean Christianity and become the church of unification.

You can see the video of our message below.

Posted in Living in the Underground Church, North Korea, North Korean defector, Planting the Underground Church, preparing for the underground church | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


As heavy fighting in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray continues into its ninth month, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea has “sounded the alarm” calling for prompt UN investigation of what he is calling the “horror stories” of Eritreans fleeing the destruction of two refugee camps in the region. But amidst the horror, Voice of the Martyrs Korea is calling attention to signs of new life: Ten new churches have formed as Eritrean Christian refugees begin the work of putting their lives back together outside the camps.

An estimated 20,000 Eritrean refugees forced from two camps in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia are now missing. Reports say thousands have been kidnapped back into Eritrea while thousands more have fled to other cities in Ethiopia.

We typically think of church planting as something that occurs under optimal social conditions. But the New Testament consistently shows that churches are formed like stars: Under immense pressure in clouds of swirling chaos. That’s certainly what’s happening in the case of these new refugee churches in Ethiopia.

But these new church plants should not be celebrated naively or idealistically by Christians in other parts of the world. Very few Christians around the world have ever experienced the kind of absolute dependence on Christ that has brought these new Eritrean refugee congregations together. These are ten groups of Christians clinging to each other and to God because everything else in their lives is shattered, splintered, and burning. Like the disciples in the Upper Room, they are meeting behind locked doors in whatever cities they can reach and whatever rooms they can afford. They are encouraging each other in the Word, because the Word is all they have left. Even in the big cities like Addis Ababa where many of the refugees are fleeing, it is impossible for them just to “blend in”: Ethnic tensions are soaring due to the conflict in the northeast, so Protestant Christians of Tigrinian ethnicity and Eritrean citizenship like them are viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by the majority ethnic groups of Muslim and Orthodox background in whose neighborhoods they are forced to hide.

The reports by Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, on the situation facing the estimated 25,000 Eritrean refugees displaced by the destruction of the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps match the reports that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is receiving from its own long-time Eritrean and Ethiopian partners. Based on eyewitness testimonies as well as the report from the UN High Commission on Refugees Commissioner to the region, the Special Rapporteur told the UN in June that he is “sounding the alarm” and calling for immediate UN investigation into what he calls “clear and consistent patterns” that these refugee camps were being “specifically targeted” for horrific abuses by Eritrean troops fighting alongside Ethiopian National Defense Forces. He said, “As many as 20,000 Eritrean refugees were missing” after they were “left for months without food, water, medical supplies or other basic necessities”. The specific “alarm” that the Special Rapporteur sounded was due to what he called “horrifying reports of sexual and gender-based violence, and of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being kidnapped, killed, attacked and prevented from fleeing”.

Reports from a long-time Voice of the Martyrs Korea partner from Tigray add another layer of concern. He wrote, “Thousands of Eritreans were taken by the Eritrean government back to Eritrea. Some of them are Christians. When they arrived in Eritrea, some were sent to prison, and some were taken to military camp as soldiers because they were soldiers before they came to Ethiopia.”

Dr. Hyun Sook Foley does a trauma recovery training with Eritrean refugees in Tigray in 2019, shortly before the conflict broke out.

But reports confirm that thousands of other Eritrean refugees escaped, fleeing to other cities in Ethiopia. It is from this massive refugee pool that ten new Eritrean refugee churches in Addis Ababa have formed. All over Ethiopia, Christ is comforting his people–not only these refugees but others whose lives have been turned upside down by this Tigray conflict. People are gathering in the churches. They’re grieving at the churches. They are bringing dead bodies to the churches to bury them in mass graves. Christ is still making a way for people to have hope.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea has so far sent 13,500,000 KRW (around $13,000 USD) in 2021 to aid Eritrean Christian refugees in Ethiopia and the families of Eritrean Christians imprisoned or martyred in Eritrea, with additional transfers planned for the third and fourth quarters of the year based on donations received. Donations made this month to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Families of Martyrs and Prisoners fund will be used to support this ongoing Eritrean work.

Donation to VOMK’s Families of Martyrs and Prisoners (FOM/FOP) fund can be made at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank): 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the name “FOM/FOP” on the donation.

For more information on Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s partnership with Eritrean underground Christians, please visit www.vomkorea.com/en/country-profile/eritrea.

Dr. Foley prays with an Eritrean widow, whose husband died in prison due to his faith in Jesus Christ. Reports say thousands of Eritrean refugees have been repatriated to Eritrea during the current conflict.

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Move over, megachurches; homes–and home schooling–are the new “front line” of the Chinese church

Police in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China again summoned a homeschooling father for questioning, this time on suspicion of “illegal holding of materials promoting terrorism and extremism”.

The July 7 detention is the latest in a series of troubles with Chinese authorities for Zhao Weikai, a 35-year-old Christian from Taiyuan Xuncheng Reformed Church whose refusal to stop homeschooling his three children led to a home raid and charges of proselytism in May.

Zhao Weikai, Li Xin, and their three children

The case signals an increase in China Communist Party intervention in Christian homes.

The Party overrules the parents in every aspect of a child’s life. Parents must act as extensions of the state or face severe punishments. In the case of Brother Zhao, his Christian beliefs prevent him from subjecting his children to an atheist public education. The response of the authorities was to detain him, raid his home, confiscate his home schooling materials, and investigate him as a terrorist.

Zhao and his wife Li Xin have repeatedly been summoned by officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau, Education Commission, and the National Security Agency and threatened with arrest for their refusal to send their children to public school. Brother Zhao and Sister Li refused to compromise their beliefs and instead continued to provide Christian education for his children in his home.

Twenty police officers then raided Zhao’s home on May 17, showing Zhao a subpoena for proselytism. First Brother Zhao, and then later Sister Li, were summoned to the police station while officers who remained in the family’s home confiscated books, a computer, a hard drive, and a flash drive. Li was released the same day, but Zhao was forced to serve a 15-day administrative detention penalty and was denied visitation by his family and attorney. When his attorney complained, authorities said that because the case involved classified information and national security concerns, the visitation request was denied.

Police used the investigation of Zhao’s home schooling to gather information about Zhao’s church. Zhao is not the pastor of Taiyuan Xuncheng Reformed Church, but he works closely with the church’s minister, An Yankui. Brother Zhao and Minister An studied theology together in Chengdu Huaxi Seminary, a Christian university founded by Pastor Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain Church who was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019. It would appear to be a case of guilt by association.

Brother Zhao with his wife and children after his release from the Lishi Detention Denter, where he was held in May.

Minister An wrote, “They arrested Brother Zhao without an arrest warrant and searched his home without a search warrant. They summoned and detained him using the excuse of home schooling his children, but they interrogated him about our church, completely irrelevant to the case. Until now, his family has not received any document, not even a list of items they impounded nor a detention notice. Everything remains a secret, a public secret. CCP authorities persecute God’s church.”

Zhao’s case reveals more than Communist Party concerns over home schooling.

For years, the Chinese government tried to control Christianity by cracking down on China’s megachurches. But Chinese churches responded by shifting away from the megachurch model of professional pastors and Christian educators to a home-based model where Christian parents like Zhao and Li take the primary responsible for the evangelism and discipleship of their children. The Chinese government knows that it is the home-based model, not the megachurch model, that is the future of the Chinese church. So they are devoting more and more state resources to cracking down on Christian parents. As Christians in the rest of the world, we need to devote more of our resources to supporting Chinese Christian parents like Zhao and Li. They are the new “front line” of the Chinese church.

Individuals interested in learning more about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s partnership with China Aid to support home-based discipleship can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/ssib.  

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