Sunday November 12 is International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church.
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by Greg Musselman
They are not your typical Bible school students. Not only are they from one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian – North Korea – most of them are older women who have come to attend the multi-year leadership training school for North Korean defectors at the Underground University in Seoul.
Underground University is a ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs Korea. Dr. Eric Foley, the CEO, says they expected to attract younger students when they started the training program a decade ago.
“As we went out and talked in churches, we asked, ‘Who are the North Korean defectors and who are the refugees doing ministry?’ They weren’t the usual suspects; they were older women,” Foley said.
Mrs Park… missionary
One is 69-year-old Mrs. Park, who has a keen desire to learn God’s word and find her place of ministry. She has witnessed first hand the brutality of the North Korean government under Kim Ill Sung, sharing that her parents were killed because of their Christian faith. “Living in North Korea was very miserable…a hard life,” she explains. “My grandfather and grandmother were Christians, so I kind of knew about Christianity in North Korea. Life for Christians was very harsh. We were forced to exile to rural areas where the living conditions were poor. There was no hot water. We suffered a lot because of our faith.”
Life then – life now in North Korea
Prior to the Korean war in the 1950s, Christianity was very strong in the north. However, that changed when communism swept over the country. During this time, Mrs. Park’s grandfather was a church leader: “He was a pastor before the Korean war. Christianity was very strong, especially in Pyongyang. But after the war, the communists took over the nation. “They persecuted Christians very hard.”
Mrs. Park’s husband was taken away by government officials and later killed because he was a Christian. When she was three, her mother was also taken away. As far as she knows, that is where her mother passed away. So Mrs. Park was raised by her grandparents.
She remembers attending the secret Christian gatherings with them while growing up: “When I was 6 or 7, I was at a meeting with my grandmother, and there were about 20 people sitting around. A middle-age man stood up and gave a speech. I wasn’t sure what it was then, but now I know it was a Christian meeting, like an underground church.”
As the persecution against the country’s Christians got more brutal, the believers were not able to meet very often. As a result, Mrs. Park didn’t have much contact with other believers. “I didn’t go to church growing up. The persecution was very severe and my grandmother hid her Bible in the house. I had the heart to become a Christian because my parents died for their faith, but I couldn’t share my thoughts with anybody in the nation at that time.”
She later married and had four children. But, sadly, her husband passed away, then her eldest son died of malnutrition while serving in the military. Things were getting worse in the country, and people were dying because of famine.
To China and onto South Korea
As Mrs. Park felt betrayed by the government, she decided to take her chances and leave for China with her three children.
In 1998, they hired a broker who told them to look for a building with a cross once they got into China where they could hide and get help. “So I did as the broker said and went to a church to get some help. That’s when I became a Christian.”
Mrs. Park and her family were helped by the Korean Chinese Christians during their time in China. Four years later, Mrs. Park and her children decided to leave for South Korea, sensing it was not safe to stay in China.
All three of her children are now married and have their own families); one of her daughters lives near her in Seoul.
Mrs. Park wants to someday return to her hometown where her grandfather once pastored a church so she can rebuild it. But for now, she is very active in ministry at her local church and works with The Voice of the Martyrs Korea, in South Korea.“I serve in many ways and visit people in the hospital.”
Mrs. Park, along with those at VOM Korea, are committed to getting God’s word into North Korea. This includes the launching of balloons (containing Bibles), an effective means of reaching many people in the Hermit Kingdom: “The word of God is truth – the absolute truth,” she concludes.
“It is so important to bring the Bible into North Korea. If North Koreans have Bibles, God can use them to evangelize the people. Sending Bibles into the nation is crucial.”