The Voice of the Martyrs in Korea has launched a global letter-writing campaign urging the release of an ethnic Korean Chinese Christian who was kidnapped from China six years ago, put in a North Korean prison, and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his ministry to North Korean people.
Deacon Jang Moon Seok, who is also known by his Chinese name Zhang Wen Shi, is serving a prison sentence for defaming the regime, attempting to incite subversion of state power and providing aid and the Gospel to North Koreans, according to the U.S.-based group International Christian Concern.
VOM’s Korea representative, Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, said North Korea kidnapped Jang to gather information about VOM’s ministry work in that country, particularly their work with Pastor Han — who was stabbed to death in Changbai in China (a town on the border between China and North Korea) over a year after Jang's arrest.
“Though it is illegal to cross into China without permission, North Koreans often visit Chinese border towns to purchase goods for reselling in North Korea, to seek medicine or other help, and to conduct business,” explains Deacon Jang’s “prisoner profile,” which is part of the campaign. “Near Changbai, North Koreans gather herbs on the North Korean side of the mountain and then take them into Changbai to sell at the market and bring the money back with them to North Korea.”
Foley described Jang as "a simple man who never did anything political. He just helped North Korean people for many years. That should never be a crime, and Christians should join together to help Deacon Jang and his family.”
Jang regularly hosted visiting North Koreans in Changbai for days and weeks at a time before they returned to North Korea, giving them warm clothing, feeding them and providing supplies they might need for their return to North Korea. “He saw this as his Christian duty to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and care for the sick. As a believer, he also shared about his faith to those who were willing.”
A number of North Korean visitors became Christians.
“Some returned to Deacon Jang’s home repeatedly for more Bible training, and Deacon Jang and Pastor Han also taught them how to share their faith with their loved ones," VOM noted. "Their goal was always to see North Koreans return home.”
The campaign urges Christians “to write to the North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations on his (Deacon Jang’s) behalf and respectfully ask for his release, using his Chinese name.” It notes that North Korea is not part of the international postal system, so letters cannot be sent to North Korea.
Credible reports consistently rank North Korea, led by dictator Kim Jong Un, as the worst place in the world for Christians and anyone of any faith in terms of oppression and human rights violations, as was noted by Olivia Enos, a policy analyst in Asian studies at the Heritage Foundation, during the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last July.
Communist governments are right to fear religion, Enos said, citing how peaceful religious movements toppled communist regimes in decades past as in Eastern Europe. “The Kim regime sees religion as potentially threatening to its leadership.”
Conservative estimates hold that approximately 80,000 to 120,000 people are presently held in labor and political prison camps inside North Korea, according to Enos. “Individuals can be sent to these prison camps for something as simple as having read the Bible, having watched a South Korean drama, listened to K-pop. These are average, ordinary things that we as Americans take for granted.”
No definitive estimates exist on how many people have died inside North Korean political camps but some believe the number ranges from 400,000 to many millions, Enos elaborated.
According to recent reports, North Korean leader Kim has undergone medical treatment by a team of doctors from China, and the White House is closely monitoring the situation.