VOICE OF THE MARTYRS KOREA 2017 ANNUAL ICA REPORT “Keeping the Martyrs’ Spirit in the Korean Church”
I suffer in the West more than I suffered in a communist jail, because now I see with my own eyes the western civilization dying.
–Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ
Throughout his writings, Rev. Wurmbrand attributed the decline of the “free” church to its inability to suffer—a claim corroborated by contemporary research showing church growth in areas facing persecution and church decline in areas where persecution is absent. We as VOM must then ask: If we in the free world have forgotten how to suffer for Christ, how can we carry out our mission to help, support, and pray effectively for persecuted Christians?
Often, when we hear the word “martyr”, bloody deaths for the faith come to mind. However, historically the church has recognized three types of martyrdom:
Red Martyrdom: Christians who are martyred in an instant, in a violent death while showing love for God and their enemies.
Green Martyrdom: Christians who obey Jesus’ command to take up their crosses daily, demonstrating the love of God through lives of self-denial.
White Martyrdom: Christians who “die to the world” through temporary or long-term periods of spiritual retreat.
Our efforts to train the Korean church to engage the underground church, we decided, should come in the form of recovering white and green martyrdom as discipleship practices undertaken in remembrance of persecuted brothers and sisters. We do this through frequent speaking events and social media engagement, highlighting that red martyrdom differs from green and white martyrdom by degree, not by kind.
Often, by experiencing a small sample of what they face, we can better understand them and the biblical calls to take up our cross and to remember the martyrs. We find that this leads to more knowledgeable and mature support from Korean Christians, as evidenced by a 25% increase in our domestic donations, a doubling of our non-NK and China project sponsorships, and an 100% increase in our constituent base.
Here are a few examples of martyr training which we undertook in 2017.
Hosting a “Stop the Circular” Campaign in South Korea
“Stop the Circular” was a smart, straightforward campaign created by Release International: Sign a petition to stop a circular in Sri Lanka that was being used to discriminate against Christians. 25% of the Korean population is Buddhist, and many of these responded harshly to the campaign. A significant number of Christians joined them. Social media wasn’t the only place where our organization was pressured. The backlash became so fierce that at one point the Sri Lankan Embassy in South Korea said that they would close embassy doors just to avoid receiving our petition. South Korean police called multiple times to try to dissuade us, and they came to the embassy the day of our petition delivery to control media reporting.
At first, we were shocked to discover the amount of backlash the petition received. However, we realized that this backlash was only a small sample of what our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters face. Standing with them required enduring some of the same pressure that they experience. This was a lesson for us and our constituents in being the voice of the martyrs.
Supporting the families of the first Chinese martyrs involved in overseas ministry
In June, two Chinese missionaries, recruited by a South Korean mission agency, traveled to Pakistan and were martyred by ISIS. Rather than condemning ISIS, the Chinese and the South Korean governments pointed the finger at Christians. The churches and mission agencies of these missionaries found themselves under considerable pressure from the government, and, in an effort to appease them, turned their backs on the martyrs’ families.
We decided to travel into China to bring aid. Since Pastor Foley and Pastor Tim had been “let off with a warning” weeks before when Chinese PSB raided a training event they were conducting for tribal Christians in the unregistered churches, we were warned that this could be a dangerous trip. Taking with him a portion of bread from the previous day’s UU/UT Lord’s Supper, as well as an offering collected primarily from our UU/UT students, Pastor Foley traveled to the homes of the families of these martyrs.
Through the trip we realized how important it was to be physically present for the families of martyrs. In fact, it was the Lord’s Supper more than the financial offering that brought them comfort and relief.
Continuing our Balloon Launches
This summer, South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-In, announced that he would work to prohibit balloon launches into North Korea. Launches have always been legal in South Korea, but they have never been without their difficulties.
Every time we ask a North Korean defector how to help with the situation in North Korea, the first request they have is for balloon launches. One member of the underground church recently told us that he had watched balloons arrive in North Korea and the importance of this ministry. “Only the Bible can crush Kim’s regime,” he told us.
So we continued to launch despite the government crackdown. The public and media responded with supportive comments critical of the President’s plan. President Moon ultimately gave in to the public pressure and decided to postpone his prohibition. Although the pressure may return, this experience gave us an opportunity to personally help bear the challenge of standing with our persecuted brothers and sisters.
Speaking events and communicating with the Korean church
During 2017, VOMK supported Christians in Sri Lanka, Iran, China, Palestine, and Eritrea, always accompanied by bringing them to Korea to speak. Due to pressure from the government and denomination leaders to avoid controversy, Korean Christian media were initially hesitant to report. Even when media did pick up these stories, they often attempted to mute the radical aspects of each speaker’s voice.
From these efforts, we learned the importance of educating reporters, so we now serve a homemade lunch for them after each press conference, and they personally sit with and talk to our speakers. We are helping reporters to grow spiritually, not only report.
We are also hosting ongoing conversations with our constituents over social media (a platform over which we have more than 4,000 followers). These are conversations more than posts, as we do not simply tell our constituents what to pray or think, but instead we engage them in discussions on challenging questions and talk about how all Christians must deny themselves and take up their cross.
Reminding the Korean Church of its heritage in martyrdom
The early Korean Christian church had a long history of green and white and even red martyrdom. Through remembering and retelling their stories through events, books, and social media, we are reacquainting the Korean church with this vital tradition. We devote considerable resources to publishing and posting these resources as a way of helping Korean Christians “remember what we once knew but are in danger of forgetting,” as we say in our mission statement.
When we decided to focus on living Green and White martyrdom as the foundation of our support for persecuted Christians, we translated and printed Richard Wurmbrand’s Preparing for the Underground Church. Pastor Foley then wrote a second book called Planting the Underground Church. This book guides the readers through twelve practical ways to experience Green and White martyrdom in their own lives. A third book, Living in the Underground Church, gives further theological background into Green and White martyrdom. This book was published in November. We do press conferences and training events to support each book.