Easter letters from inside NK show young people finding freedom, solace in the Bible

Most North Koreans typically go their whole lives without seeing a Bible. But according to letters received at Easter by Voice of the Martyrs Korea from Bible recipients inside of North Korea, that may be changing–especially among younger North Koreans.

“One letter writer wrote us from inside North Korea, ‘There is no way people in NK possess the knowledge of God throughout their whole life. But we early in our twenties have been allowed to come to know God [through these Bibles we received],’ says Voice of the Martyrs Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley. Her organization supplies North Korean dialect Bibles to North Koreans inside North Korea, as well as to North Korean laborers working abroad and North Korean sex trafficked women in China. Some of the Bibles, including the ones received by those who wrote thank you letters back to the ministry, are individually distributed to recipients by underground Christians from North Korea and the other countries where Voice of the Martyrs Korea reaches North Koreans.

Representative Foley says Voice of the Martyrs Korea distributes 40,000 to 50,000 North Korean dialect Bibles a year in print and electronic formats to North Korean citizens outside of South Korea. She notes that the Bible is also read daily on Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s five shortwave radio broadcasts to North Korea.

According to Representative Foley, independent surveys show that such distributions are having an impact on the number of North Koreans who have seen a Bible inside of North Korea.

The North Korean Human Rights Information Center, an independent data-gathering NGO, has been conducting an ongoing study where they found that in the year 2000, effectively 0% of people inside North Korea had ever seen a Bible with their own eyes,” says Representative Foley. “They have continued to update that study, and at the end of 2020 they determined that around 8% of people inside of North Korea have now seen a Bible with their own eyes.”

She says that number is likely to have increased even further during the Covid pandemic. “The requests for Bibles from North Koreans outside of South Korea doubled each year during the pandemic,” she says. Her organization does not disclose information about the means used to receive and fulfill requests for Bibles, noting that South Korea’s Anti-Leaflet Law could put the safety of Bible couriers and recipients at risk. “With the exception of radio broadcasting, anyone bringing the Bible into North Korea from any country in any format, whether printed or electronic, using any means of distribution, remains at risk of prosecution,” says Representative Foley.

Representative Foley says her organization publishes select letters from North Korean Bible recipients in order to help Christians outside of North Korea understand the impact the Bible is having today inside of North Korea. “Christians outside of North Korea wrongly think that the only kinds of mission activity possible toward North Koreans are things like teaching at North Korean universities, sending money for humanitarian aid through North Korean government-approved projects, or conducting training programs to plan for missions in the future when North Korea might ‘open’ to the gospel,” says Representative Foley. “But as the Apostle Paul wrote Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:9, ‘The word of God is not bound!’ The Bible is continuing to get inside North Korea today, and more North Koreans are reading it and being transformed by it today than literally any other time in history.”

(File photo) SD cards being loaded with North Korean dialect Bibles.

Representative Foley says the latest letters received by Voice of the Martyrs over Easter from Bible recipients inside of North Korea show evidence of this transformation.

“One recipient wrote, ‘I am giving thanks to God who washed away agony and hatred but gave us the eyes of love and joy to see the world.’ Another wrote, ‘Many comrades here have been surprisingly transformed (after believing in God)…The only hope of the NK young people is to believe in God.’ And a third recipient wrote, ‘After coming to know God, we did not pray not only for ourselves but also for others who are greatly in pain. Then, I could not believe even at this moment to say this, but through our prayers, our comrades began to recover from sickness.’ University teaching, humanitarian aid, church planting—these are all good things from a human standpoint. But only the word of God can transform the human heart. That transformation is what is happening today in North Korea as more and more North Koreans read the Bible.” 

Translations of the letters from Bible recipients inside North Korean received by Voice of the Martyrs Korea this Easter are shown below.

The past three years were truly a difficult time to most of Chosun people including myself. We still do not see today when it will end. Nevertheless, I am truly thankful for you to continually support us through this challenging period. Above all, we are so grateful especially for letting us hear the Words of God. The only reason why these young comrades like me have not died through this difficult time is because of only the word of God that has sustained us. I have been thinking deeply about sharing the God I experienced with others. I am giving thanks to God who washed away agony and hatred but gave us the eyes of love and joy to see the world.
From NK

There is no way people in NK possess the knowledge of God throughout their whole life. But we early in our twenties have been allowed to come to know God. I know this is such a tremendous blessing to know Him. I also have learned with what mind I should live and discerned the lies of the NK government. It was such a moment that I was set free from mental slavery. Many comrades here have been surprisingly transformed (after believing in God). I believe and hope that God will perform God’s mighty action in NK. The only hope of the NK young people is to believe in God. I certainly believe it. I give thanks again to you who gave us this opportunity (to know God).

Some say that the Covid has gone away, but we are still fighting an unknown disease. Many comrades suffer side effects from Covid. When they got infected, they did not have proper treatment and had to just wait for death to come. I felt terrifyingly sad as I was seeing my comrades dying on the field without a chance of going to hospital. After coming to know God, we did not pray only for ourselves but also for others who are greatly in pain. Then, I could not believe even at this moment to say this, but through our prayers, our comrades began to recover from sickness. As getting to know God more, I was empowered to overcome pain, and now have hope. We are greatly thankful for all these. Thanks to everyone abroad who are praying for us.

Yesterday, I had to attend a late-night lecture (communist moral education). It was explaining to us about how to reject reactionary elements (against anti-government propaganda). If we were deceived by these, it means would betray our nation, our parents and our brothers all at once. In truth, if I had not known God, I would have believed all these voices of the lecture. I feel I am reborn every day as listening to the God’s words. I now understand how important to live a day with a right spirit. I give thanks to God. I give also thanks to those who helped us.

Individuals or churches interested in supporting Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s North Korea ministry can make a donation via website or wire transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303 

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리 

Please include the phrase “NK Ministry” with the donation. 

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China: Pastor submits Bible as “new evidence” to appeal his conviction

Pastor An Yankui did not expect to win the appeal in Lüliang City, Shanxi Province last month of his November 2022 conviction on charges of illegally crossing the China border to attend a Christian conference in Malaysia. Instead, the pastor says he simply wanted to testify to God’s Kingdom in court by supplying “new evidence” to the judge: the Bible.

“Pastor An hoped to use the maps of Paul’s missionary journeys in his Bible to prove to the appeals court judges that since the beginning, Christian leaders have traveled internationally as an essential part of their ministry responsibilities,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley.

In January 2020, Pastor An and six members of his church traveled to Malaysia to attend a Christian conference organized by Chinese Indonesian pastor Stephen Tong and featuring pastors Tim Keller and D.A. Carson. In November 2021, Pastor An and church member Zhang Chenghao were detained on the charge of having illegally crossed the border to attend the conference, despite having departed and returned to China through customs with their passports. Both were fined and sentenced to a year in prison, finally being released in November 2022. Pastor An appealed the conviction, citing “new evidence” in the case which was then heard March 1 of this year.

“When Pastor An submitted the Bible as ‘new evidence’ in his appeal, the judge felt it was an unusual request and asked the pastor to clarify if he really intended to submit the Bible as evidence in his defense,” says Representative Foley. “Pastor An affirmed that this was his intent, and told the judge, ‘I can give the Holy Bible to you as a gift if you like.’ Ultimately, the judges denied Pastor An’s appeal and upheld the original guilty verdict, but Pastor An achieved his purpose of using his appeal to make a faithful witness for the gospel to those in authority.”

According to Representative Foley, Pastor An’s appeal demonstrates that Christians have a higher responsibility in court than securing their own freedom and safety.

“The Book of Acts shows the Apostle Paul repeatedly appearing in court, and each time he goes, he is defending the gospel, not himself,” says Representative Foley. “In fact, in Acts 26:32, Agrippa says to Festus that Paul could have been freed if he had not appealed to Caesar to judge his case. Just as with Paul, the same thing is true of Pastor An: In court, they both were focused on something more important than their personal freedom or reputation. They were focused on being faithful witnesses to those in authority.”

Zhang Chenghao (left) and Pastor An Yankui (right)

Representative Foley says that even though Pastor An has completed his sentence, it is certain that authorities will continue to closely monitor him and his church members. “Pastor An and his church have been a target of the authorities since 2018, when they did a prayer vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre,” says Representative Foley. “Amidst police raids and arrests at his church, he joined 438 other Chinese pastors in signing the 2018 ‘Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith’, a statement of faithfulness to the gospel directed to the Chinese authorities. It seems that authorities consider him dangerous because he puts faithfulness to the gospel above his own personal safety.”

Individuals interested in learning about or supporting Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the house church Christians of China can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/china or give via electronic transfer to:

KB Bank: 463501-01-243303

Account Holder: (사)순교자의소리

Please note “China” on the transfer.

Similar to the Bible shown here, Ps. An wanted to use the maps of Paul’s missionary journeys in his Bible to make his appeal. 
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Preparing for Underground Church…at campsite seminars!

Every Tuesday night, Pastor Eric Foley and Dr Hyun Sook Foley sleep in a camping car in a different campground in the Korean countryside. Their goal is not to take a rest from the hustle and bustle of their daily life in Seoul but instead to help Christians remember what they once knew about the Christian faith but which the Foleys say they have forgotten as Christianity has became wealthier and more socially acceptable over several generations.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea co-founders Pastor Eric Foley and Dr. Hyun Sook Foley leading a “Preparing for the Underground Church” campsite seminar in a tent at a Korean campsite. 

“We call it our ‘Preparing for the Underground Church’ campground seminar,” says Dr Hyun Sook Foley, who along with her husband founded Voice of the Martyrs Korea twenty years ago in order to learn from and support persecuted Christians in North Korea.

Today the organization partners with persecuted Christians in more than 70 countries, and the couple regularly travels to share what they have learned from persecuted Christians in speaking events around the world and at churches across Korea, including Korea’s famous megachurches. But according to the Foleys, they are happiest speaking at the weekly campsite events for the small number of Christians who come out to see them in the Korean countryside.

“Back in 2017 my husband wrote a series of three books called the ‘Preparing for the Underground Church’ series, to help Christians in so-called ‘free’ countries prepare for the coming persecution of Christians by remembering what all Christians once knew but which today only Christians in persecuted countries seem to remember,” says Representative Foley. “At the time they were published, Korean Christians said, ‘Why do we need to know these things? Our country is different.’ So few copies were sold. But then COVID hit, and the Sexual Revolution spread across Korea. Today, the books have become best-sellers in Korea and have been translated into several different languages. We receive so many offers from the Korean megachurches who say, ‘Come here, and we’ll gather a thousand pastors for a seminar on preparing for the underground church.’ But Pastor Foley and I realized that a big part of preparing for underground church is going to places where you normally don’t go, and meeting in ways you normally don’t meet. So we declined the offers from the megachurches, purchased a used camping car, and started booking spots at campsites.”

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley at the ministry’s camping car. The ministry does weekly “Preparing for the Underground Church” seminars at campsites across Korea.

“Each Tuesday night we gather together at the campsite for dinner with the attendees, and we each bring a side dish,” says Representative Foley. “Then after dinner I do a presentation on the history and ministry philosophy of Voice of the Martyrs Korea. The informal setting enables us to continue talking into the evening.”

The main event is on Wednesday, when the Foleys present their one-day “Preparing for the Underground Church” seminar. “It’s not about presenting any special or unique teaching,” says Representative Foley. “In fact, it’s more about setting aside all the special or unique teachings that Korean churches tend to focus on these days and instead getting back to the basic message of the sufficiency of Christ and his word. We remind attendees that the church comes into existence when the word of God is received in faith, and the church goes out of existence when the word of God is no longer received as sufficient. We remind attendees that faithful witness to the sufficiency of Christ is what produces persecution, so persecution should not be feared but rather seen as the world’s act of self-defense against the trust of the gospel. We encourage attendees not to be worried as the Lord removes some of the externals from our churches and our lives that we wrongly assume are necessary to live as faithful believers. It’s really about a return to the basics of the Christian life, which is what persecuted Christians remind us not to forget.”

Representative Foley says that the couple began doing the seminars in the wintertime when temperatures were well below zero. Even then, she said, Christians came.

“We huddled together around the kerosene heater and ate ramyun,” she laughs. “It was a really precious time.”

Voice of the Martyrs Korea uses their tent to host groups of 10 to 15 Christians each week for “Preparing for the Underground Church” campsite seminars led by the organization’s co-founders, Pastor Eric Foley and Dr. Hyun Sook Foley.

Now in the warmer weather, Representative Foley says that doing a seminar at a campsite offers distinct advantages. “It’s really a pleasant time,” she says. “We sit outside the camping car and talk on Tuesday evening. We eat outside in the sunshine during the lunch break on Wednesday. Everyone brings food to share. There is time for good conversation and interaction. People always leave feeling like the Lord reminded them of what they once knew but have forgotten amidst the focus on the external, non-essential things of the Christian life.

Typically 10 to 15 people are in attendance, says Representative Foley.

“We don’t charge for the events, and attendees are surprised how freely they are able to interact with us,” she says. “One attendee last week said, ‘Pastor Foley is so famous. I am shocked that I could come and meet and talk with him like this!’ But people who know Pastor Foley will understand that even though he speaks all over the world, it is in small groups like this that he feels the important work of the ministry is done.”

Representative Foley says that the seminar attendees represent a broad range of Korean Christians. “We had a pastor from Gangnam last week, sitting next to a pastor couple from a small Baptist church nearby,” she says. “There are seminary students, seminary dropouts, deacons, elders, Christians who have no position in their churches, and even foreigners.” Attendance requires prior registration through Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s volunteer department and is open to evangelical Protestant Christians.

The Foleys follow a circuit of eight cities, going to a different campsite near each city each week and then beginning the circuit again once they complete their visits. Representative Foley says they plan to continue the seminars well into the future. “Pastor Foley likes to quote the early Korean Christian Kim Gyo Shin. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the countryside to comfort a woodcutter.’ Kim Gyo Shin died before he could follow the Lord’s instruction. So we are taking up that instruction and plan to continue going into the countryside to ‘comfort the woodcutters’ each week as long as the Lord permits us.”

Individuals interested in attending an upcoming “Preparing for the Underground Church” campsite seminar can call Voice of the Martyrs Korea volunteer department at +82-2-2065-0703 for more information.

The ‘Preparing for the Underground Church’ series of books was written by Pastor Eric Foley in 2017. The books are available in Korean, Chinese, Russian, and English through Voice of the Martyrs Korea. 

Pastor Foley’s Preparing for the Underground Church series is available in Korean, English, Russian, and Chinese through the Voice of the Martyrs Korea or via Amazon. The first book, Preparing for the Underground Church, defines “underground church” and helps Christians in so-called “free” countries understand and respond to the growing social hostility toward Christians in these countries. The second book, Planting the Underground Church, offers 12 recommendations to churches on how to operate in a future of heightened government surveillance and control. The third book, Living in the Underground Church, shows how Christians can restore family worship to the central place in church life. Further information on all three books is available at https://vomkorea.com/en/store/ or by calling +82-2-2065-0703.

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