Dylan Kim has many fond memories of his father’s ministry work with North Korean defectors. As far back as 2006, he remembers his father, Kim Jong-Wook, dividing his time between South Korea and China as he served and proclaimed the gospel to North Koreans. In 2008, when Dylan was a teenager, his family moved from South Korea to Dandong, China, a large port city just across the Yalu River from North Korea. There, Dylan served alongside his father
“We worshipped together with North Korean defectors in some apartments in different areas,” Dylan said. “We gave them a place to stay, food to eat, and did discipleship training with them.”
Dylan also watched his father train each believer in evangelism in case they ever returned to North Korea.
In early 2012, Dylan, then 17, returned to South Korea to attend university. In September of the following year, his father came to South Korea to visit Dylan and his older brother. “He told us that he was planning to go into North Korea,” Dylan said, recalling his final memory of his father. “He also told us that he was only going to go in for a short time and he would come out.” Kim Jong-Wook was arrested a month after entering North Korea
Continuing the Ministry
Dylan and the rest of his family weren’t surprised by his father’s arrest, which they learned about through a press conference that included his father. Kim Jong-Wook had previously been detained briefly in other countries, such as Laos, for illegally helping North Korean defectors. At the time, China was pressuring Laos and other nearby countries to repatriate North Koreans to North Korea by returning them to China.
Dylan said he doesn’t think his father was surprised by his arrest in North Korea either. “My father explained to us about his calling for North Korean missions and that he was putting his life on the line,” Dylan recalled of their last visit. “He had faith enough to die if he was meant to die.”
Some think North Korean informants infiltrated Kim Jong-Wook’s inner circle and persuaded him to enter North Korea so they could capture him. He is one of four South Korean missionaries currently imprisoned in North Korea and one of about 30,000 Christians suffering in prisons and labour camps.
Following his arrest, Kim Jong-Wook was convicted of spying and starting underground churches. North Korean authorities sentenced him to life in a labour camp, where prisoners are often treated like animals, forced to work long hours of slave labour and beaten until they bleed. Malnourishment is common, driving some prisoners to eat rats for survival.
When Dylan heard the news of his father’s arrest, he immediately turned to God in prayer.
“I did not ask questions or blame God,” he said. “I prayed for God to give him back to us. I also figured that my dad would be tortured, so I prayed that he would not lose his faith. We prayed these things together as a family sometimes, and I also prayed alone.”
As Dylan continued to pray for his father, he also focused on his own calling. He began attending a seminary abroad in 2018, sleeping little and losing weight during his first semester. When he returned to South Korea at the end of the semester, his aunt scheduled a doctor’s appointment out of concern for his health. Dylan then learned that he had contracted tuberculosis, causing him to remain in South Korea for treatment and six months of recovery.
While recovering from his illness, Dylan worked part-time with VOM in South Korea, handling maintenance and administrative tasks. After several months, he was hired full-time to visit and help disciple North Korean defectors in Seoul and Daejeon, while continuing to perform administrative tasks and work in facilities maintenance. He especially enjoys teaching the North Korean defectors. “When I teach the Word of God to the students and I see them understand, it makes me happy,” he said.
Dylan said the personal connections he makes with North Koreans bring to mind ministry work with his father. “With my own eyes,” Dylan said, “I saw North Korean defectors going through extremely difficult situations when I was in China. So when I hear the stories from our students of the difficulties that they are going through, it is not something new to me. It is very familiar.”
Through his work with VOM in South Korea, Dylan said, God has given him multiple opportunities to grow in faith.
“In each of these experiences, I had a resistance to taking the next step,” he recalled, “but because it is what God gave me to do, I stepped forward. Through these processes, I realised that I am not doing this by my own strength, but by the power of God.”
In addition to these daily growth experiences, Dylan is also participating in mission trips. “While doing these mission trips, I saw North Korean defectors preaching the gospel to other North Korean defectors for the first time,” he said. “For example, one person is very shy, but I saw them being outgoing… and sharing the gospel. So I saw the change in them and the power of the gospel.”
He has had many opportunities to share his own testimony with students, creating empathy and fellowship between them through the discovery of similar sorrows and experiences. “Many of them are touched, cry, and pray for my father,” he said.
“Most of them have family members in North Korea.” A front-line worker who has observed Dylan’s work said his relationships with North Korean students have greatly benefited Dylan through personal growth and healing. “They pray for him and his dad and his family,” the front-line worker said, “ and together they share the pain of being apart from loved ones who are inside North Korea.”
Dylan has heard no news about his father since the initial press conference. But he continues to pray for direction about his future, confident that the best way to follow in his father’s footsteps is to heed his own calling from God.
I want to do work that gives glory to God,” he said. “I think that the work of saving souls is the work that makes Father God most happy and gives Him the most glory.”