It's hard to imagine why someone would want to go back to North Korea - described by some defectors as "hell on earth" - after escaping the totalitarian regime that has the world's worst human rights record. But some North Koreans are doing just that - volunteering to risk their lives to return to a hostile country in order to spread the Gospel.
Underground University is a new project by Colorado Springs-based ministry Seoul USA that will train and equip North Korean defectors with tools they need to return to their homeland for ministry.
For 12 months, the North Korean Christians will undergo an intensive training process in Seoul, South Korea. Afterwards, they will go to North Korea and China, where North Korean defectors flee to, as well as other countries where North Korean diplomats and students live.
"Many Americans have heard about the tens of thousands who are active in the underground North Korean Church, but an equally amazing trend is the growing number of North Korean exiles who are eager to return to China and North Korea to reach their countrymen," said H.S. Foley, the CEO of Seoul USA.
"The fact that North Koreans are eager to risk their lives by returning to North Korea to spread the Christian message makes us want to equip them with the comprehensive training they'll need to survive," she added.
For the past seven years, North Korea has been ranked No. 1 on Open Doors USA's World Watch List - a list that ranks countries based on the degree of persecution of Christians. Testimonies from North Korean defectors and investigative human rights reports have revealed that the government carries out brutal attacks on Christians and dissidents.
Anyone found a Christian in North Korea is imprisoned, tortured and sometimes even publicly executed to warn others to not follow the faith.
In North Korea, citizens are forced to adhere to a personality cult that revolves around worshipping the current dictator and his deceased father. There is absolutely no religious freedom in North Korea, nor freedom of speech.
But despite the intense dangers, North Korea defectors still want to return to their homeland to share the Word of God with their countrymen.
Estimates place the number of underground Christian believers in North Korea at around 400,000 to 500,000, but the figure could be higher, according to Open Doors sources in the country.
Meanwhile, there is an estimated 200,000 Christians currently in prison labor camps because of their faith.
Seoul USA, in an effort to raise awareness about the "modern-day holocaust" in North Korea, is hosting a banquet on April 2 at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs. The banquet is free for anyone who wants to attend, with dinner costs already covered by Seoul USA supporters.
The banquet will feature speaker Kim Sung Min, a North Korean defector and dean of Underground University. He has twice been invited to the White House to share about the plight of North Koreans.
Kim will share his own personal story of how he escaped North Korea, as well as his hopes for the Underground University project.
"This banquet is a unique opportunity for the people of Colorado to hear the life-changing story of Mr. Kim, learn about the suffering of North Korean Christians, and get involved in a radical underground movement designed to change North Korea from the inside out," Foley said. "Everyone is invited to attend and bring family and friends."
On the Web: www.undergroundu.org