Rick Warren recently shocked thousands of Saddleback congregants with news of his invitation to preach to some 15,000 Christians in North Korea, according to several recent media reports.
The megachurch pastor and author of best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life told about 5,000 worshipers at his church in Lake Forest that he would be embarking on a "grueling" tour to meet with presidents, business leaders and pastors of 13 foreign countries, according to Religion News Service. His nearly 40-day journey includes visits to Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Rwanda and South Korea where he would preach at the world's largest church - Yoido Full Gospel Church which numbers around 800,000 members.
"I want to ask you to pray for me," Warren told the congregation, according to Religion News Service. He further informed the congregants that North Korea would allow him to preach in a stadium seating 15,000 but would not be limited to that crowd number. Warren was invited to preach in a larger venue if he could fill the seats.
Not many Americans have visited North Korea, mainly because of the restrictions set by the communist country. Human rights agencies and Christian persecution watchdogs have repeatedly cited North Korea as the worst human rights violator in the world. Dr. Richard Land, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the country "the world's most closed society."
The other few religious leaders that were invited to preach in North Korea included evangelist Billy Graham, who had spoken only to hundreds of students over a decade ago, according to a Saddleback attendant.
"This is a pretty big step by the North Koreans," said Rick Moore, also a vocalist in the Vocal Worship ensemble, on his blog page.
Although shocked, Saddleback congregants applauded the upcoming trip.
While giving a rare invitation to a world renowned evangelical pastor, North Korea is also issuing visas for travel to its country between Aug. 10-Oct. 10, which is also a rare permit to foreigners.
Warren told Religion News Service, "I know they're going to use me. So I'm going to use them."
According to Moore, Warren's trip to North Korea will be to discuss plans for the future speaking engagement there.