Two U.S. Christian music groups set off for North Korea Sunday to participate in the country's annual Spring Friendship Arts Festival.
Contemporary Christian band Casting Crowns and the Annie Moses Band, a five-sibling ensemble, both left the United States on Sunday as the only U.S. Christian groups invited to perform this week in the reclusive communist nation.
Fans of the two groups will likely not hear from the artists until they return from the nine-day festival, which ends Saturday, given North Korea's notorious dictatorial control over many aspects of life there.
"I won't have any outside communication while in DPRK," Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall informed fans via Twitter on Sunday while at the airport in Atlanta. The official name for North Korea is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Two years ago, Casting Crowns was invited to perform at the 25th Annual April Spring Arts Festival with help from Global Resource Services (GRS), which has worked in North Korea for more than a decade.
The annual Spring Arts Festival reportedly emphasizes artistic exchange and promotes peace and good will.
Notably, however, the North Korean government is known for having arguably the worst human rights record in the world. The majority of people there are reportedly cut off and isolated from the rest of the world, dependent on the totalitarian regime for their needs.
Furthermore, of the country's more than 23 million people, about 9 million of which are in need of urgent food assistance, according to the World Food Program.
Though critics of North Korea are skeptical about the true motive behind the North Korea's Spring Arts Festival, both Casting Crowns and the Annie Moses Band intend to do as the festival's stated mission claims it does - promote peace and good will.
"Perhaps it is clichéd, but music is a powerful medium," said AMB lead vocalist and violinist Annie Wolaver, whose ensemble consists of her two sisters, two brothers, and herself.
"The fact that we are going as family presents a picture, not just of what it means to be artistic, but what it means to be a family, an American, and a Christian," she told The Christian Post.
According to Wolaver, AMB received an official invitation from the North Korean government in early December last year to perform this week.
It will be the ensemble's first overseas performance.