COVID-19 placed a very real strain on ministry to North Koreans after the country announced it would close its borders, even to defectors being sent back from China.
Experts believe North Korea took this course of action because they knew they lacked the resources to deal with an outbreak. This has meant the number of citizens leaving the country decreased dramatically.
To many ministries reaching out to North Koreans, this has made their work increasingly difficult. North Korean ministry is vulnerable to current affairs, and how strict officials are with North Koreans (especially in China and Russia) depends on the news of the day. Purchasing sex-trafficked brides from North Korea, for example, is technically illegal, but Chinese officials will occasionally overlook this offence when the government’s focus is elsewhere.
Specialised foreign missionaries can’t get into China to share with North Koreans, especially in the northern areas but even if they could, many North Koreans have fled.
Voice of the Martyrs, however, has spent years training local Christians how to minister to North Koreans in the area in which they live. Their goal throughout the pandemic was to support existing discipleship bases and home churches in China and wherever North Koreans are found. There is even more work to be done in Russia where many North Koreans are currently working. VOM is focused on strengthening the already existing network of frontline workers there.
Thankfully frontline workers have continued their ministry faithfully despite the forced isolation. One of the ministers in China said:
“The whole of China was in crisis throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Most roads in our area were blocked and public transport was halted temporarily. The government didn’t permit private meetings and gatherings so we were forced to worship in our own homes.“
In China, North Koreans could not even afford to buy masks to protect themselves from the virus. Frontline workers specifically asked VOM for a large number of masks so that they could provide aid as well as evangelise.
In the midst of public panic, VOM ministry partners are even expanding their ministries in response.
While most countries have held China at a distance during this time, Christians are continuing to minister even in cities with the highest confirmed cases of the virus. The goal to deliver 800 ministry packs, 1500 MP3 players, 1000 SD cards, and discipleship materials to North Koreans is even ahead of schedule for the year.
According to one frontline worker, the wall North Korea has put up is permeable. People may be kept out, but smuggled goods are even more welcome. To survive, North Koreans desperately need supplies. Because of this, smuggling becomes essential when the border is closed, meaning it is easier to smuggle Scripture in different forms across the border.
One of the frontline partner ministries working with several North Korean women continues to share the Gospel with others. They meet and distribute MP3 players with Faith Comes by Hearing’s Gospel recorded in the North Korean dialect. According to testimonies, these MP3 players are truly a light during an otherwise dark time.
One recipient said: “If asked what the happiest moment of my life was, I would say it is the time I am able to listen to the Word of God through MP3. During this time, I don’t worry about anything; I don’t even feel tired.”
North Korea itself boasts a faith-filled and efficient underground church and is home to several Christians discipled by VOM who, for the purpose of the Gospel, chose to return.
Recently one of the VOM offices received a testimony that read: “In the dark reality and hopeless life of North Korea, I am thankful to have discovered the truth.”
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