When a North Korean man’s relatives invited him to read the Bible, everything changed.
Years ago, Byung-woo travelled from his home in North Korea to visit relatives in China. His relatives, who were part of China’s vast underground church movement, invited him to read the Bible while he was there. When he declined, they fasted and prayed for a couple of days, hoping he would change his mind. That puzzled Byung-woo even more than the original invitation.
Finally, out of curiosity and a desire to appease his family, he agreed to give the book a cursory read. But the more he read, the more questions he had for his relatives. The Bible translation used the South Korean dialect rather than the North Korean dialect. The two dialects differ roughly 40% of the time. However, the parts he understood fascinated him.
Seeing Byung-woo’s interest, his relatives took him to their house church, where church members explained the need for the Gospel in North Korea and implored him to start an underground church there. They were prepared to provide him with food and money to sustain him, Bibles to distribute and a bicycle to help him reach more people.
Byung-woo grew increasingly fearful as he considered their idea. Possessing a Bible, let alone several of them, is extremely dangerous in North Korea. Being caught with even a few pages of Scripture could result in detention in a concentration camp, so North Korean Christians often memorise passages of God’s Word to safely ‘possess’ it.
Overcome by fear, Byung-woo left the Bibles behind and returned to North Korea, where he told his wife about the Bible he had read in China and how it had moved him. To his surprise, she said she also wanted to read the Bible.
Out of love for his wife and a desire for her to learn about Jesus as he had, Byung-woo decided to return to China for a Bible and then risk his life smuggling this precious book back into North Korea. When he arrived back in China, his relatives joyfully gave him a Bible and some money from church members. He then returned to North Korea and gathered some relatives to tell them about the Jesus he had come to know through the Scriptures.
Byung-woo’s relatives wanted to hear more. They took turns reading the Bible, and even though they didn’t always understand the dialect, they said its words brought them peace.
Inspired by his family’s reaction to the Bible, Byung-woo committed his life to the Lord and carefully began to share the Gospel with other North Koreans.
When he met someone who would soon be travelling to China, he would encourage them
to visit a church there. Upon returning to North Korea, he would ask them about their visit. If they had attended a church service and had a positive experience, he would then discuss the Gospel with them and disciple them.
Over time, Byung-woo learned that some of his neighbours were also underground Christians. That knowledge encouraged and emboldened him, but he also realised that his life in North Korea would be further endangered as more people learned of his Christian faith.
Byung-woo eventually defected to South Korea, where he learned about Voice of the Martyrs. Through one of our supported programmes for North Korean defectors, he is now studying Scripture in the North Korean dialect, using the same translation VOM smuggles into North Korea.
Like Byung-woo, many North Koreans are now reading God’s Word and coming to faith in Jesus Christ, despite the persecution that they know may follow.