(Photo: Seoul 2011 Screenshot)
A Christian North Korean missionary group dropped 50,000 balloons carrying Bibles and religious tracts into the heavily persecuted North Korea last year.
"Every time we fill up one of these balloons, we hold it and we pray together in English, North Korean and South Korean," Eric Foley, the co-founder and CEO of Seoul USA told Fox News. "We pray loudly and always with tears."
The sophisticated handmade balloons, created from "farm plastic," pumped with hydrogen, filled with New Testaments and stories of faith from North Korean believers, are guided by timers and GPS technology that determine when and where the balloons are dropped.
Foley and his wife, Hyun Sook, a South Korean immigrant, who started the organization together, see their work as assisting and equipping "the most persecuted believers on earth."
In the heavily impoverished North Korea, Christianity is banned and the country's only official religion, or ideology, is "Juche," or "Kim Il-Sung-ism," "the cult of the deceased leader."
According to Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), a Christian persecution activist group, roughly 100,000 Christians are believed to be in North Korea, though hundreds of thousands of Christians have allegedly been killed off by the government for their faith. Of those 100,000, VOM states 35,000 live in the country's work camps where they are subject to hunger, violence and abuse.
Yet the persecution has not turned off all North Koreans from Christianity. Eric said that demand for owning a Bible — a deed that will send the offender and three generations of his or her family to prison — still persists. Seoul USA also reaches North Koreans through a short-wave radio program where listeners can hear the Bible read. Although radios are also banned in North Korea, Eric believes that up to 20 percent of citizens in the country own one.
Seoul USA is not the only group that relies on balloons to send messages to North Korea. Indeed, balloon drops from South Korea into North Korea are not uncommon, though they have been a contentious issue between the two countries, and at times banned by South Korea after threats that North Korea might retaliate violently.
According to Eric, Seoul USA has been given the legal right to fly their ballons, though their work has at times been complicated by struggles to find places to find hydrogen to purchase.
For Park Sang-hak, a "founding father of the balloon propaganda movement," that would be a minor inconvenience. Park sends roughly 5 million propaganda pamphlets across the border annually, raising North Korea's ire and making him the target of a assassination attempt.
In the beginning of July, a North Korean defector hoping to launch 5,000 balloons with DVDs, radios and leaflets was arrested by South Korean security, after North Korea issued a statement making death threats towards the activist. Three days later, in an unannounced launch, North Korean human rights activist Lee Man-bok successfullly launched 22 balloons filled with DVDs attempting to convince residents that their country had lied to them about its military strength.