How to Love and Serve Hurting North Koreans

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(Photo: Hope for Orphans)Paul Pennington of Hope for Orphans and Dr. Jeffery Paul, HFO Medical Director near the North Korean security processing area in Tumen China, looking into North Korea from the Chinese side in 2011.

A few years ago, I was driven across a single-lane bridge from China across the Tumen River into North Korea. It was a cold day despite the bright sunshine as a few friends and I were ushered into a powder-blue building where soldiers directed us to metal detectors. Though the equipment resembled the security at an American airport, these soldiers were far from the TSA. They examined our passports and combed through every inch of our suitcases without a trace of emotion on their faces, automatic weapons strapped across their backs.

Then an officer pulled out my Bible. My heart beat faster and I wondered if I would be arrested or pulled aside. As I silently prayed, he thumbed through my Bible. Watching me closely, he put it back into my suitcase and motioned me through.

This was my introduction to one of the most restricted countries in the world.

In the days that followed, I was introduced to a world unlike anything else I had experienced. It was a very strange experience. I have three children who were born in South Korea. In North Korea, I saw people with faces similar to my children, but these faces showed hardship and stress that we in the west cannot imagine. It was the faces of despair and hopelessness that stuck in my mind — especially the hopelessness of the children.

The Visible Gospel

On the Korean peninsula, we stand today at a convergence of history, spiritual forces, human military power, and gospel opportunity rarely seen in history. If there were some sort of major change on the peninsula, would we be ready to reach out with God's love and care? What if the North Korean people were refugees or in search of safety? What if something were to happen to break the chains of poverty, hunger, and oppression that millions have lived under in North Korea for so many years?

How can believers in the United States, South Korea, and China prepare in all humility to serve the weak and vulnerable of North Korea?

By loving those who are hurting, oppressed, and vulnerable, we have an opportunity to reflect how God has loved us. Pastor John Piper uses the phrase "the visible gospel" to describe this — as the Church loves widows, aliens and orphans, we are reflecting the gospel for the world to see.

Our friend Pastor Eddie Byun in Seoul says, "The more vulnerable a group of people the more valuable they are to God."

If that is true, the North Korean people are most certainly very valuable to God. Is the body of Christ ready to receive and care for the orphans, widows, and aliens of North Korea, should that be needed?

How Will the Church Respond?

It is easy to be somewhat apathetic to all this. North Korea can seem distant from the vantage point of our busy, comfortable lives. But I would submit that if the curtains of this realm were pulled back and we could see the unseen realm like Elisha's servant in 2 Kings 6:17, we would recognize that now is the time for the Church to prepare practically and spiritually to serve the hurting and heavy laden in North Korea.

Will the millions of evangelicals and their leaders in South Korea prepare to love the orphans, widows, and aliens that might come to their door? Is the church in China preparing with their vast footprint to be a beacon of hope to those who could be flowing into their land?

In America, it is an embarrassing how so incredibly few North Korean refugees and unaccompanied orphans have been allowed to come to America. Now is the time for our government and the church to join hands in preparing for how unaccompanied refugee orphans could come to loving foster families in America.

There are almost 3,000 Korean American churches in the USA. How many of them could play a huge role is being the visible gospel to what could be one of the greatest liberations in our lifetime? How can mainline churches in America build bridges of partnership with the Korean church in America and South Korea?

Here are few examples of what it could look like for you and your church to prepare to love the vulnerable people of North Korea:

United States

  • Talk to your congressman and senator and ask why so few North Korean refugees and unaccompanied orphans are allowed to come to our country? In fact ask them if they know how many refugee North Korean refugee minors have been allowed in the last 8 years to come to safety and foster homes in America?
  • Find out if your church has ever reached out to Korean American churches in your area. If not why not? Simply gathering to pray together could build amazing bridges and prepare for working together.
  • Educate and encourage your church in gospel-driven adoption, orphan and foster care. Learn more about Hope for Orphan's resources for churches, agencies, and adoptive families, go to or find specific resources in our store.

South Korea

  • Ask your church to pray about encouraging the government to allow foster care for North Korean orphans already in the country. Ask who in your church would volunteer to be a pioneer foster family if allowed.
  • Explore how your church can serve North Korean refugees and children in your country already now as a preparation for learning how to serve for the Gospel if the floodgates open soon.
  • Ask how your church can partner with ministries like Holt Korea at the Ilsan Campus where young refugee children from the North might one day be cared for.


  • How is your fellowship able to help the North Korean refugees and orphans in your country?
  • In Chinese-speaking fellowships, could believers learn to speak Korean to prepare for what may be a large opportunity to serve in the days to come?

But most of all, how is the Holy Spirit leading you and your church to be available for how He wants to use you? With some intentional leadership and planning, this could be one of the greatest hours in our lifetime for the church of Jesus to be the solution for a forgotten people on the other side of the world.

Paul Pennington is the president of Hope for Orphans, a non-profit ministry supporting churches and Christian families in adoption, foster care, and orphan ministry. Launched by Paul and Robin Pennington in 2001, Hope for Orphans has equipped thousands of churches and tens of thousands of families in orphan ministry, adoption and foster care through its resources, tools and events. You can learn more about Hope for Orphans at