On May 24, a number of concerned Christians, members of Congress, and key leaders from a variety of humanitarian organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. for a policy day. Hosted by International Christian Concern (ICC), the meeting kicked off a series of events that comprise The Bridge: The Annual Conference on the Persecuted Church.
The conference topic? North Korea. The goal? To bring together government leaders and the church to discuss foreign policy to end the human rights crisis in North Korea. ICC hopes these policies will not only stop the suffering of individuals, but open North Korea to the gospel.
In his opening remarks, Jeff King, President of ICC, stated,
“Kim Regimes are the embodiment of evil, yet they have survived decades through failed negotiations with the West.” Comparing the Kim regime to the Nazi regime, he added, “We said ‘never again,’ but ‘never again’ has turned into resignation…and kicking the can down the road.”
Estimates indicate that, since 1948, anywhere from several hundred thousand to 1 million Christians have been killed by the Kim regime. Total deaths are estimated at between 600,000 and 2.5 million—not including causalities of the Korean War.
“The fall of North Korea is not impossible. It is inevitable…The year of jubilee for North Korea is coming,” and government leaders should “haste to speed that day.”
A Defector’s Testimony
Joseph Kim, a 26-year old North Korea defector who previously appeared on TED, shared his story at the conference. At the age of 12, he watched his father starve to death. Shortly thereafter, his mother and sister disappeared. For three years he was homeless. He worked 10 hours a day in a coal mine just for a free lunch. Finally, at the age of 17, he decided to swim across the river to China. “I knew it would be risky,” he said, “but I saw it as no different than starving to death or being gunshot.”
In 2007, Joseph Kim made it to the United States and entered high school. He chose to study political philosophy in college, because, “I wanted to know why human rights violations are still going on when we all know about it.” He concluded his testimony with Elie Wiesel’s statement,
“The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.”
From Revival Gem to Persecution Capital
In 1945, Pyongyang, North Korea boasted a thriving Christian community founded on the revivals of previous decades. Author Sally Jo Messersmith, a conference attendee from Michigan, shared a scrapbook from this era. The scrapbook contained correspondence from a missionary to Pyongyang who had been a friend of Messersmith’s mother. Immaculately preserved photographs, rice-paper letters dated 1931, and church bulletins filled the plastic sheet protectors. One photograph from the time pictures a crowd of clean, straight-faced pastors standing in front of modest church buildings. Another shows missionary nurses gathered together in tidy white uniforms. With over 25% of the population identifying as Christians, the city was known as the “Jerusalem of the East.”
In 1948, the Kim regime came to power and began a systematic extermination of Christians. Christians are forced into labor camps, murdered, tortured, starved, beaten, used as medical test subjects, and raped. Women undergo forced abortions. One woman was beaten with a baseball bat by a North Korean soldier until she lost the child. Another underwent a medical abortion with no anesthesia.
North Korean Christians are hung on crosses over fires and crushed alive under steamrollers. Others are trampled to death underfoot. Babies are drowned in buckets.
Today, Christians comprise an estimated 1% of the North Korean population. Known as “catacomb Christians,” they form a secret, underground church that survives on gleanings from sparsely-found Bibles, information-loaded tablets dropped by drones, and gospel radio transmissions.
Juche: A Marxist Deification to Replace Christianity
The Kim regime grounds itself in Juche ideology. Juche, which literally means, “self-reliance,” infuses the deification of the Kim family with Marxist philosophy in a deliberate perversion of Christianity. The Christian Trinity is replaced with Kim Il-Sung (“The Father”), Kim Jong-Il (“The Son”), and Kim Jong-soko (“The Holy Spirit”). While Christians read the Bible and confess their sins to God and one another, Juche adherents follow the precepts laid out in Kim’s writings and confess their shortcomings to one another.
The actual practices of this system so shocked the United Nations that they reported,
“What we discovered about North Korea shook the conscience of humanity.”
At birth, each person is assigned by the government to one of three classes. The “friendly” class comprises the elite. For example, babies whose ancestors supported the government or served in the military are placed in the friendly class. Those whose ancestors were Christians or associated with perceived enemies of the state are placed in the “hostile” class. In between these is a second, “not-so-friendly” class.
Because the government controls the allocation of resources, most people in the hostile class starve. It’s estimated that anywhere from 40% to 80% of North Korea’s population is starving. And, as One Free Korea Founder Joshua Stanton pointed out, this isn’t because North Korea doesn’t have enough money. It would cost about $100 million U.S. to feed the hungry in North Korea for one year. Research shows that, in a single year, the upper classes of North Korea spent $600 million on luxury goods such as jewelry, gold, and electronics.
Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Bruce Klinger, speaking at the policy day, explained that when people first learn of the atrocities in North Korea, they are “rightfully shocked and disgusted.” Soon, this “shock is replaced with outrage that the conditions continue, continue, and continue.”
North Korea’s Underground Railroad
Melanie Kirkpatrick, author of Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad, spoke extensively at the conference. Leaving North Korea is a crime punishable by death. Many who do manage to escape–of which 80% are women–are sold into slavery, sex trafficking, or deported back to North Korea. In these cases, the individual is often tortured or killed for defecting. As of 1990, only 9 North Koreans had reached South Korea. But, in 2011 alone, 3,000 North Koreans reached South Korea. Currently, about 25,000 to 26,000 North Koreans live in South Korea. About 1,500 make it out every year.
The underground railroad includes Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, China, and South Korea. Due to the North Korean government’s intense efforts to prevent escapes to South Korea, many defectors travel thousands of miles through other countries before arriving in South Korea.
Besides paid human traffickers, the underground railroad is run mostly by Christians. Though the official Chinese policy is to arrest defectors and return them to North Korea, local Chinese Christians will welcome refugees into their homes. Americans have gone to prison in China for feeding and housing North Koreans there.
Because North Korea is a completely closed country, this underground railroad is a tremendous bridge between North Korea and the rest of the world. Much of what we know about conditions and life inside North Korea comes from these brave defectors. The railroad also helps information about the outside world spread into North Korea.
Spiritual and Political Calls to Action
Senator Ted Cruz (TX), Senator James Lankford (OK), and Representative Chris Smith (NJ) took strong Christian stands on North Korea. Congressman Chris Smith boldly called for
“prayer and fasting on behalf of the beleaguered people of faith…[and] praying earnestly for a change of heart or removal of the Kim regime.”
Smith distributed to each attendee a robust packet of policy designed to end the Christian genocides in North Korea, Iraq, and Syria. “I do believe that the era of strategic patience is over,” he declared. With great passion, Smith blasted the indifference of the former administration in recognizing the Christian genocide in Iraq. When recognition was finally gained after three years and nine hearings, nothing followed. He is hoping that the Trump administration will “name the issues” and “name names” when it comes to the Christian genocide in North Korea.
Smith stressed that before we look at tougher sanctions for North Korea, we should enforce the sanctions already in place. Pointing to the International Religious Freedom Act, he said, “we do have the tools” to hold “countries and corporations accountable” for their support of North Korea.
Though Smith identified deploying missiles and increased cyber security as key moves, he prioritized educating the North Korean people. He urged the use of defectors’ stories and radio freedom broadcasting to “demystify and de-deify Juche.”
Senator Ted Cruz urged for an updated and reformed version of the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act. But, much of his address focused on standing together with our persecuted brothers and sisters. “Your prayers are heard,” he said.
Senator James Lankford identified the universal cry of the human heart for union with its Creator. “It cannot be restrained,” he said. “The regime cannot stand. But right now the suffering is unfathomable.” Senator Lankford pointed out recent legislation which requires every trade agreement negotiated over the next 12 years to include religious freedom and human dignity.
Lankford also urged for a reinstation of the designation of “countries of particular concern” and that ability to sanction not only countries, but individuals. Specific leaders in North Korea should be restricted from traveling, purchasing luxury goods, or banking. He concluded,
“100,000 people are depending on us doing something…Most certainly they’re counting on someone praying for them.”
General Agreement on Directions for Policy
Several common themes emerged throughout the conference. Most agreed that policies should pressure banks, governments, and corporations from working with North Korea. For example, U.S. banks should stop processing North Korean military transactions. China should be pressured to choose between trading with the United States and trading with North Korea. Enforcing existing sanctions, and toughening sanctions, also emerged. Several raised the issue of pressuring China to stop deporting North Korean defectors. Also, policies should allow humanitarian organizations access to North Korea to alleviate the physical suffering of the people.
Pending Policy Reforms
Two bills, H.R. 2061 and S. 1118, have been introduced to the House of Representatives and the Senate. These bipartisan bills reauthorize the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. International Christian Concern is also pressing for Congressional assistance to persuade President Trump to appoint a Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues. This envoy would coordinate and promote efforts to improve respect for the fundamental human rights of North Koreans.
It is time for us to get serious about North Korea. If you feel strongly about these policies, reach out to your Senators and Representatives! But most importantly, pray and fast for your brothers and sisters in Jesus. May they have the grace of God to keep the faith and to be soon freed! And may North Korea once again open to the gospel and become a center of Holy Spirit revival!
“For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death” (Psalm 102:19-20).
Joshua Stanton’s web page, One Free Korea
Melanie Kirkpatrick’s book, Escape from North Korea