In a country described as a spiritual vacuum surrounded by the watchful eyes of a totalitarian regime and oppressed by a quasi religious cult centered on its leader's family, North Koreans desperate to keep the Gospel alive have found innovative methods to smuggle in the Word of God.
Whether it is through human transport of Bibles or North Koreans risking their lives to testify to their families upon return or balloons filled with Christian tracts, the Word of God is penetrating the country where being openly Christian can result in execution.
From within the country, evangelism is taking place through disguised missionaries and North Korean Christians repatriated by China or returning on their own free will, according to North Korean defectors at the Open Doors USA panel discussion this past week on religious persecution in North Korea.
One North Korean defector, Ms. Eom Myong-Heui, said that she was evangelized through a Chinese-Korean missionary disguised as a businessman while still living in North Korea.
Eom – who is now an assistant pastor of a church in South Korea for North Korean defectors – said that she was desperate for food during the North Korea famine in the 1990s and had resorted to partnering with the disguised missionary businessman to earn money.
The Korean-Chinese missionary would teach her the Bible whenever they met and eventually Eom became a Christian.
Yet she and the other North Korean defector on the panel agreed that the best method to spread the Gospel in the closed society is through training North Korean refugees.
"The best and most effective way is using the North Korean refugees," stated Eom, who said defectors can call their family and relatives in North Korea and share the Gospel.
Eom explained that she speaks to her two daughters still in North Korea through a cell phone from China that cannot be monitored by the North Korean government.
"We can train those North Koreans as strong believers and connect to relatives in North Korea … and conversations can spread [the] Gospel," she said.
"Philip Lee," a North Korean defector now living in South Korea. added that some North Koreans are even willing to return to the North and spread the Gospel. Lee, whose real name is withheld for security reasons, said that one of the main ministries in his church composed of North Korean defectors is to train strong Christian leaders who are willing to return to North Korea and witness.
But he noted that even refugees forcefully returned to North Korea can become powerful witnesses.
Lee recalled a repatriated North Korean Christian named Brother Luke who would daily urge his prison guards and officers, "You should believe in Jesus! You should accept Jesus!" Luke reportedly continued his exclamations even during torture and before a judge in court, according to Lee. Before his martyrdom one year later, one prison guard had accepted Christ.
Meanwhile, other North Korean defectors have found innovative ways to spread the Gospel in the North while still remaining in South Korea.
Lee Minbok, founder of North Korea Christian Association, began sending large balloons filled with thousands of Christian tracts across the North-South border about three years ago. Lee, previously a scientist in North Korea, is mostly joined by a small group of defectors or those who have worked with North Korean refugees. The balloons are said to land in North Korea within 20 minutes to 1 hour from its departure in the South.
"I'm proud that North Korea is angry," said a grinning Choi Yong-Hun, a volunteer at NKCA and a South Korean who spent nearly four years in prison in China for helping North Korean refugees, to The Christian Post. "They ask, 'Who sent it?' We say that God sent it. It is a very effective way to send the Gospel."
Other ways given to evangelize North Koreans include smuggling in Bibles, as Open Doors has done over the past ten years; Christian radio broadcast; and through organizations working with North Korean refugees along the border in China.
Last week's panel discussion in Washington was part of North Korea Freedom Week, Apr. 22-29, which seeks to raise awareness of the brutal North Korean regime and to urge stronger actions by the U.S. government and international community to press North Korea on its human rights abuse.
The week mainly ended on Saturday with international protests against China's violent treatment or North Korean refugees at Chinese embassies around the world.