North Korean Christians’ stories need to be heard

Features Column



Headlines continue to announce the paranoid, bellicose behavior of the isolated and impoverished nation of North Korea, truly one of the pariah nations in our world. This rogue nation, erratic and unpredictable, now apparently has nuclear weapons of at least a primitive nature with which they threaten to incinerate the United States.

I have found myself reading carefully these past few years about every subject (art, culture, politics) that crosses my desk regarding the Korean peninsula. Having a son and daughter-in-law living in South Korea turns the heart of this father to such reading.

I have read heartbreaking, first-person accounts of life in that cruel, desperate, utterly impoverished nation, making me wonder how one could survive in such an oppressive climate of fear, torture and intimidation. The most recent reports regarding North Korea have documented the concentration camps scattered across the country, places of degradation and punishment where brutality is commonplace and entire families are imprisoned because of the “criminality” of one person.

It is a crime in North Korea to have or demonstrate faith and, although most of my reading is related to the danger of practicing Christianity, I suspect the same punishment and terror awaits those who practice any of the other world religions, too.

North Korea, like China, has a few “show churches,” fake congregations of believers who the regime can use to demonstrate their belief in religious liberty, but these ersatz communities are sham bodies serving to deflect criticism of the North Korean government.

Melanie Kirkpatrick, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, wrote about the plight of the North Korean church late last year in the Wall Street Journal, an article which was distilled from her 2012 book “Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad.”

Ms. Kirkpatrick notes that the church in North Korea is growing in spite of the intensity of their suffering. Martyrdom has a way of working like that; the more cruelly a regime oppresses people of faith the deeper and stronger their faith grows.

The churches in North Korea are largely deep underground, with meetings taking place very secretly and carefully.

It is so dangerous to be discovered practicing one’s faith in North Korea that many times it is an act of courage to simply sit next to another known believer on a public park bench, never even speaking a word to each other, but secure in the knowledge of a shared faith.

Eventually some North Korean Christians escape the horror of their nation by slipping into China, utterly destitute and with no plan except to leave their nation. Their stories remind me of those Cubans who — over the years — did whatever was necessary to escape from the brutal Castro regime.

These North Koreans, if they are fortunate enough to find a church in China, will be given aid and comfort by their brothers and sisters in Christ and helped on their way to eventual freedom. Their stories of victorious faith over insurmountable odds need to be heard.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.