Saturday evening we had a speaker from North Korea. Mr. Kim was a very stoic, dignified looking man, impeccable in his dark suit. I'd guess he's about 45 years old. Unlike all of the other speakers, he had written out his entire speech before hand. His translator, a bilingual Korean-American woman, had written out the entire English translation too. So both of them were reading from a script, so to speak. He grew up in North Korea and was a commissioned officer in the North Korean military. Eventually he escaped to China and lived for a while in a safe house run by Christians.
I guess I should interrupt his story for a minute to give you some background on NK in case you don't know. South Korea is so afraid of North Korea that they are VERY reluctant to accept defectors from North Korea. It's really tragic. There are only 13,000 NK defectors in SK. But there are 300,000 more defectors hiding in China. Chinese Christians are sometimes the only people willing to house NK defectors -- they are willing to embrace the risk. China hunts them down and when they catch them, they send them back to North Korea. It is a crime to defect from NK so when the defectors get repatriated they are usually put in a gulag and die. China repatriates several hundred NK defectors a month. If this is news to you, you would be greatly benefited (and agitated) by watching the documentary Seoul Train.
Back to Mr. Kim. He lived in a Christian "safe house" in China for a while where he learned about God. He had never heard of "God" before but decided He must be like Kim Jung Il. Mr. Kim decided this "God" must not be as powerful as Kim Jung Il because "God's" hymnal had only 558 songs, while Kim Jong Il's had 600.
He was told they would try to get him to South Korea if he would first copy the Bible by hand. He tried a little bit but the Bible was so big and he decided this was unreasonable, so he left the safe house. He was arrested a few days later by Chinese police. He was tortured by North Korean authorities--all his fingers were broken. He prayed desperately to God, "If you let me live, I will give my life to You." As he was on the train to the gulag, his chance came. The bathroom was so unsanitary the guards didn't like to go all the way in with the prisoners. He jumped out the bathroom window while the train was moving. Praising God jubilantly, he made his way back to China again (despite the fact that his face was on wanted posters). He returned to the same safe house, where he was welcomed unconditionally. In 1997 he made it to South Korea and is working to help his fellow North Korean people.
But here was where the story got really interesting. He did not become a true Christian until last fall. He had gradually been able to build up a small enterprise in NK that was helping people -- but the government caught the people and confiscated their equipment. He tried to save them, but they were publicly executed as spies. The final prayer of one of them was something to the effect that he wished he could continue living in NK so that he could keep telling people there about Jesus. Mr. Kim was very angry with God for allowing this to happen, and angry that he'd ever gotten involved in trying to help NK people. Through this shattering of his efforts, this brokenness, he wound up "at the foot of the cross" and was brought to a genuine relationship with Jesus.
This dignified man reading from a script (which he also had read at an identical conference the previous week) started crying before us that night as he told us how he had become a Christian.
One other neat story from NK. The most common Korean translation of the Bible was not well translated. This causes a barrier to NK and SK people alike as they try to understand it. The NK government wanted to show their superiority to SK, so back in the 70's the NK government commissioned a very scholarly team of translators to produce the most accurate translation of the Bible into Korean that is possible. They did an outstanding job, even according to international Bible scholars who have reviewed it. But the NK government, in true Marxist fashion, only printed 300 copies of the Bible, and kept them in a university library for use in teaching students why Christianity isn't true. However, a copy of this Bible has been smuggled out to SK and is now being reprinted and distributed in mass quantities.
The other speaker on Saturday night was a man from the Arabian Peninsula. (I'm going to abbreviate that A.P. for the rest of this article so I don't have to keep spelling Peninsula, and I'll call him Brother S.)
The man who led Brother S to Christ was a farmer from Iowa who had never been overseas before. But in the early 80s he felt like God wanted him to go to the AP so he did, and began striking up conversations with young men he met. Brother S said this man had so little understanding of Arab culture that he would, metaphorically speaking, walk on you without knowing it. But despite his ignorance, God honored his passion for seeing Muslims meet Jesus. Brother S finally prayed the sinner's prayer just to get this farmer-evangelist off his back. But he became very depressed and eventually 6 months later he truly gave his life to Jesus and was delivered from a life of drug abuse. He became so happy that he could not keep his mouth shut. To us in the audience he said, "How happy are you in the Lord? Have you found a great treasure? Or have you only found 10 dollars?"
He explained to us why the people of the AP are very arrogant. First of all, because they speak Arabic, the holy language that Allah speaks and used to dictate the Quran. Second, because the Quran says they are a blessed people. And there's proof! They think, "When we dig for water, we get oil! When we have a war, the US comes to fight it for us! We're blessed!"
"Most Christians who come to the AP come for money, not for missions."
"It takes ground troops, not just the air force (satellite and radio broadcasts) to win a war."
He partnered with some Filipino Christians to distribute 4000 Jesus Films. The police caught some of them. He surrendered himself to the police in exchange for getting the Filipinos released. He was pressured to sign a paper saying he would stop evangelizing. He refused. The police checked with the local churches to see if he was associated with them. All of them disowned him, and said they did not participate in evangelism.
He was released unharmed.
He placed an ad in a leading magazine -- "Need help understanding the Bible? Call this number..." He had to get a second phone line.
Five experts in converting Christians to Islam came to try to convert him back to "the true faith". They came every week for 22 months and they had long, noisy debates into the wee hours of the night. Several times they got so noisy that Brother S' wife (listening from another room) was worried he was about to be killed. But in the end, 3 of the 5 became Christians! Praise God!
I was so captivated by Brother S's message that I went to his "breakout session" afterwards to hear him more. This group was much smaller and I was on the front row. It was an informal Q & A time. And it was here that I got what was for me probably the single greatest life-changing message of the whole trip.
I had what I thought was a really good question for Brother S. I raised my hand and said, "It seems that a lot of the missions efforts for the Muslim world (what little efforts there are for the Muslim world at all) are being targeted at some of the softer Islamic countries like Morocco and Indonesia. Would it perhaps be a better use of missions resources if we focused specifically on Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula? This way we would be digging out Islam at its very roots. If Islam died out in Saudi Arabia, it would probably die out everywhere in the world."
I thought he would say something like, "You know, young man, you are really insightful. This is what I have been telling mission strategists for years, but none of them seem to see my point. That is why I have such a heart for the Arabian Peninsula..."
Instead he looked at me and said, in essence, "Stop worrying about being strategic and go reach your neighbors." He said it very graciously and not in those exact words. But wow, that was a very convicting message to me personally. My neighbors seem like the hardest people in the world to reach, and maybe that is the whole point of it. Maybe once I've reached my neighbors it will be all downhill from there? He then said that he and his wife have been living in the US for the last two years while his wife goes to seminary. He told me that she has reached every house in a circle of 50 around their house. When they brush her off, she figures out another way to go back again.
With that new thought ringing in my mind, I went to my dorm room and tried to get some sleep. I actually lost a lot of sleep at the conference. I was so full of adrenaline and new experiences and ideas to process that it took me a couple hours to get to sleep each night. But somehow or other my body adapted and I was able to feel energetic for the whole conference.
Next post I'll tell you what happened on Sunday morning, the last session of the conference.