What is Underground Technology (UT)?
Nearly 80 percent of those who leave North Korea are women. The majority of those have had some kind of traumatic encounter related to human trafficking or abuse. When they come to South Korea, few churches know how to relate, let alone help. Often in an effort to do good, churches and social programs regard these women simply as victims and recipients of services. Voice of the Martyrs Korea takes a different approach. We see these women as amazing, creative, and powerful. How else could they have successfully escaped the most brutal and repressive regime on earth and then survived and triumphed over sex traffickers, abusers, and underground police, all while traveling three thousand miles across countries whose languages they do not speak, even while they had no money and were caring for children or parents or other refugees? Our goal is to help them grow in relationship to the God they met along the way—the God who has an even more exciting adventure for them in the future.
Underground Technology (UT) is our six month school where those adventures are born. It is a personal discipleship program where female and male North Korean Christian defectors are trained in five key areas to equip them for the next stage of their journey: 1) Academic success; 2) Life skills; 3) Character formation; 4) Relationship development; and 5) Spiritual foundation. Through field trips, internships, classroom education, volunteering and one-on-one coaching and counseling, they not only receive care for the hurts they have sustained; more than that, at UT they learn to care for others—especially those in their immediate sphere of influence, like their family members in South Korea and North Korea.
Testimony From a Current UT Student
Ms. Han’s friend was shocked. She could hardly recognize Ms. Han. It wasn’t that Ms. Han had gotten her hair cut or lost weight. It wasn’t even that she hadn’t seen Ms. Han in a while. After all, the two met together every Sunday. The difference was that Ms. Han wore a genuine, confident smile on her face.
Like many North Koreans, Ms. Han had, understandably, wrestled with fear on a regular basis. She had also, understandably, tried to keep this fear to herself. Who cared enough about her to ease the burden of her fears? Who could possibly understand the struggles she faced? It wasn’t until Ms. Han attended UT that she was given an answer to her questions: not only does God care enough, but God understands her most harrowing experiences. After all, God was there with her.
Every week, VOMK staff members and volunteers travel to the UT student’s homes. This not only gives the students a chance to practice mirroring God by hosting the very people the student was raised to fear and hate (North Koreans are taught that the South Koreans and Americans hate them), but it also gives the students a chance to open up about the challenges they face.
“I feel blessed when you come to visit me,” one UT student told the staff that visited her. “I love to share what I have with everyone. One day, I hope I can share my house with the whole UT class!”
This particular student had been struggling with fear all her life. She assured us that she felt blessed to have made it to South Korea. Life in South Korea came equipped with its own toil and trouble, but life in North Korea was almost unbearable. There was no money and so her son had to steal and lie in order to survive. Every day, this student would fear for her son’s life. Even a knock at the door would tug at her nerves: anything could be a sign that her son had been found out and killed.
However, this student did not leave her fears behind when she left Nouth Korea. Her son still lives in North Korea and she spends every day fearing for his life. This student admitted to us that she feared she would never see her son again. By sharing this fear, this student handed it over to God.
Not only were our staff members able to pray for her, but her fellow students were able to pray for her as well. And when these students heard about her sorrow, they opened up about their own. Several students also had sons and daughters that still lived in North Korea. Several were afraid they would never be able to see their children again, either.
Yet after we prayed, the students did not gather together and cry. They smiled together and comforted one another. When fear is hidden, it becomes despair. However, when fear is shared, it becomes hope.
What do you teach at UT?
We use a variety of resources, but the Prasso materials are foundational to UT. Prasso is the Greek word meaning "to practice" and it is designed to help ordinary Christians learn to practice the Bible in the everyday events of their lives.
In addition, instructors from all over the world who are among the most well-regarded in their fields of practice teach both in person and via videoconference. UT students learn what the “ordinary” Christian life is all about, and they get to see how that is practiced around the world.
All of our teaching materials are specifically adapted for North Koreans. For example, North Korean people are used to criticizing one another and thinking negatively about each other's talents. This is how they were educated and required to behave in North Korea. In UT, students learn how to change their sinful thoughts and habits into godly ones. Students learn how to encourage one another and to regard each other with charitable judgment. They learn to pray for people other than themselves. This simple activity is an important corrective to North Korea's "self-criticism" meetings.
What kind of field trips do you do with the UT students?
We recently took UT students to the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery. This cemetery is a place where foreign missionaries' compassion and love for Korea is kept alive. This is particularly important for our North Korean students, because it was in the northern part of pre-war Korea that missionaries first found the greatest acceptance. North Korea was a missionary launching pad for the gospel as it went across Korea and Northeast China.
When the UT students lived in North Korea, they heard these same missionaries were American imperialists who were very cruel and evil. A field trip like this not only challenges their long-held assumptions, but also encourages them not to get too comfortable in South Korea, but instead be ready to serve God in everything they do.
What kinds of volunteer activities do UT students do?
The UT students are regularly involved with everything from launching balloons to packing up North Korean Bibles for distribution. Serving others is an extremely important part of the UT training, because from the moment defectors enter South Korea they are only taught to receive. This "receiving" mentality stunts their Christian growth. A regular program of volunteering and serving is needed to help the students grow to fullness in Christ.
These ministry opportunities are normally denied to many NK defector men and women, but they are essential to helping them to understand about the God who takes the stone the builders have rejected and makes it the cornerstone—in this case, the cornerstone of new, God-centered leadership in the North Korean defector community and in North Korea itself.
How can I send a message of encouragement to UT students?
Teachers in North Korea teach schoolchildren to hate Westerners (and especially Americans), and they are taught that those in America and the West hate them and seek to do them harm. Thus, when UT students receive a card from you, they express wonderment at this barrier-breaking element of the Body of Christ. You can of course write in English, as our staff and volunteers happily provide a basic translation of the contents. We encourage you to mail cards to the Voice of the Martyrs, and we will hand-deliver them to UT students in Korea.
Please include a picture of yourself - the UT students love to see who is praying for them! Please include a Scripture verse for them. These are easy for our volunteers to translate.
Please include a sentence or two of your own encouraging words. If the contents of your card are too long, the translation will take too long for our volunteers.
236-1 Duck Seong Building - 1st Floor
Mapo-dong Mapo-Gu Seoul
Can I set up a pen pal relationship with a UT student?
Sorry, but thanks for understanding. Confidentiality is of the utmost importance to us and to the students. That’s because students have family members still inside North Korea, and those family members are punished by the North Korean government for the students’ “sin” of defecting. That’s why we release no details about the students and why students are very protective of their privacy. A message of encouragement to all the students is the best pen pal note you can send!
What happens after a student graduates from UT?
Graduates of the UT program are eligible to enroll in the Underground University program. UT students are an excellent source of candidates for Underground University.