Dr. Rick Warren confirmed plans to visit North Korea on July 17, according to a news release Saturday, amid threats of new missile tests from the communist country.
The evangelical pastor plans to meet with church and business leaders in what is officially called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to prepare for his return to preach to some 15,000 people in March 2007. Warren's speaking engagement next year is in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Pyongyang Revival, what many say established the base of Korean Christianity.
Despite the current standoff over recent missile firings by North Korea, Warren stated, "Regardless of politics, I will go anywhere I am invited to preach the Gospel."
A delegation of South Korean businessmen working with representatives from North Korea was reported to have visited Warren at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., to invite him as the preacher for the anniversary event next spring. They had quietly received permission to hold the first public outdoor Christian service in North Korea in 50 years, according to the release.
Twelve years ago, evangelist Billy Graham was one of the few Americans and religious figures to visit North Korea. Tensions were present at the time also and Graham expressed concern for peace in the region. He was the first foreigner ever invited to preach at the Great People's Study House in Pyongyang, where 1,000 citizens had gathered. Other speaking venues included a church that Kim Il Sung's mother attended and Kim Il Sung University.
Much like Warren's recent statement, Graham had said his primary purpose in going to North Korea was to preach the Gospel, as he had to millions in many other countries around the world.
Still, as North Korea remains the worst violator of human rights and religious freedom across several human rights watchdog lists and reports, Warren said he hopes he can promote religious freedom through these visits.
Warren recently departed on a 35-day tour of 13 Asian and African countries. The invitation to preach in North Korea came before the visit from the South Korean delegates. Warren is scheduled to arrive July 12 in South Korea, where his best-seller The Purpose Driven Life had topped the Christian best-selling list, for meetings with government, political and church leaders. He will also partake in pastoral training and large evangelistic events at outdoor stadiums in Seoul and Busan.
Warren will then speak to U.S. troops at a military base near the Demilitarized Zone from where he will cross the border to meet with the invitational committee in Kaesong, North Korea.