Underground University isn’t just a school that teaches North Korean defectors how to do North Korean ministry—it’s a school through which North Koreans actually do North Korean ministry. Rather than waiting for Reunification, UU students take steps toward reunification by ministering to their own people—North Koreans who have defected, been sex trafficked, or who have been sent out to work in order to make money for the NK regime in countries around the world. For the protection of our students, we can’t give out a lot of the details of their underground mission work, but the following story from a recent trip will help explain why their work is so unique and essential.
Mrs. Byun received her calling to become a missionary when she was on a UU mission trip. She was ministering to sex-trafficked North Korean women at the time and felt the holy spirit moving within her.
“No one called me a missionary,” she professed on the day she graduated, “but I called myself one.”
Now, she is working together with VOMK as a UU intern to continue her ministry to North Koreans around the world. Sometimes her work takes her into dangerous countries. Other times, however, it takes her into unexpected ones.
Recently, Mrs. Byun traveled with the Foleys to Finland where she spoke about the North Korean underground church. Compared to the dangerous countries to which Mrs. Byun normally travels, Finland may seem tame. However, due to its timely nature, this mission trip was equally as important as any Mrs. Byun had taken before.
“At this moment, the eyes of the world are fixed on South Korean President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un,” Pastor Foley said. “But the eyes of God are focused on this single North Korean sister who is working together with Finnish Christians to set the foundations of true peace.”
In a time when any reference to North Korea’s human rights violations can have consequences for a South Korean citizen—even one of North Korean background—Mrs. Byun chose to stand for the truth and to share this truth with the world. Moon and Kim’s Peace Declaration may not have brought peace to North Koreans who routinely suffer beneath the heavy hand of the North Korean government, but Mrs. Byun’s faithfulness has established further steps toward this peace.
Going on a mission trip is especially dangerous for our UU students. Anywhere where North Koreans can be found, North Korean spies can be found as well. It is not rare for North Koreans (even North Koreans with South Korean citizenship) to be kidnapped in foreign countries and sent back to a North Korean prison camp.
Despite the danger, our students are aware of the importance of ministering to their own people.
“When I was a defector, I was afraid because I did not know God,” one student said. “But the North Koreans I meet during my mission trip have very bright faces because they have learned about him.”
One VOMK staff member observes that the thing that helps North Koreans isn’t just learning about God. The thing that helps North Koreans is learning about Christ from another North Korean!
“No witness is more effective to a North Korean than the testimony of a fellow North Korean,” this staff member says.
This staff member has accompanied our UU students on several mission trips and can say without hesitation that North Koreans are always much more interested in the UU students than them!
“During one mission trip, the North Koreans were alone with the UU students and asked them several questions about Christianity,” the staff member remembers. “They asked the students, ‘Are the South Koreans telling the truth? Does God really exist?’”
Another staff member recalls a mission trip they went on with our students.
“I spent a lot of time researching and writing my lesson, but it did not impact our North Korean contacts as much as our student’s words impacted the North Korean contacts,” they say. “Every time the students opened their mouths, everyone was crying!”
Only a North Korean can understand the suffering and spiritual struggles of another North Korean. This is what makes our UU students effective witnesses for Christ among their own people. But what do our students think about the mission trips?
“When I saw the North Koreans we were ministering to on the mission trip, I remembered my own experience,” one student comments. “Even though I did not know God at the time, God called me back to minister to people who were just like me.”
This defector adds, “This trip has increased my resolution to return to my homeland after the unification of both Koreas and live as a witness of God in memory of the Korean martyrs who came before me.”
Another defector says, “I answered many of the North Koreans’ questions and was reminded of my own past because I used to be full of doubts and questions about the Christian faith. They may take a while to become Christian and they may struggle to understand the Bible, but I was confident that God chose them.”
Even before reunification, God is using these men and women to minister to their own people. As one student says, “I want to follow what Peter and other Christians did for the gospel because I have been chosen and called by God to be a strong missionary.”
VOMK is not just a ministry to North Korean people. It is also a ministry done by North Koreans.
Underground University (UU) is a two year-long ministry and leadership training school for North Korean defectors living in Seoul. In addition to the classroom work and personal mentoring and service assignments, students participate in mission trips to minister to North Koreans living in other countries. Underground University stands out among training programs for North Korean defectors because:
1. We train and deploy students for ministry to North Korea today.
We do “works of mercy field trips” each month where we practice sharing our bread, opening our homes, healing and comforting, visiting and remembering, and other disciplines with North Korean defectors and South Korean outcasts. Students are required to minister to NKs internationally before they graduate. That puts them in a very small category of experienced NK ministers!
2. There is an emphasis on hearing and doing the word.
This is not only a field ministry training program. There are homework assignments and quizzes for every class session. Students memorize large amounts of scripture weekly, in keeping with the tradition of the North Korean underground church. Each of our tracks, like Persecution Theology (using In The Shadow Of The Cross), is serious study. We hold ourselves and our students to a seminary standard in theology while offering and requiring more practical theological participation than many South Korean seminaries.
3. Rooted in mentoring.
1 Timothy 3:1-5 shows that the key to effective missionary service is learning to be an effective minister in one’s own family. That can only be learned life-on-life, and that has made UU a one day classroom experience supplemented by a six day supervised life experience—one that continues well beyond their graduation.
Alumni mentor existing students by acting as examples, coaches, and understanding elder brothers and sisters. This is proving to be a crucial missing piece in both enabling more thorough instruction and also creating greater connection with our alumni.
You can hear how these distinctives play out in the lives of UU graduates:
Ms. Hur: I considered myself as nobody and worthless before I studied in UU. I thought that it was enough to worship and pray hard as well as to know God’s love and love Him because I am an old lady. However, my negative idea about myself has been changed while I studied in UU. I gained confidence by serving others with love as I followed God’s will, and by spreading the gospel.
Mr. Ham (rescued by UU from a cult into which he had fallen even while actively involved in one of SK’s most prominent churches): I had a turning point spiritually while I studied in UU. I have learned many things that I was curious about but could not get enough answers from sermons on Sunday. I have been grown up spiritually in UU. After I repented my sin for being shaken and being lured by Satan, I restarted to walk by faith step by step. And I learned a lesson that I can be firmly standing in faith when I only believe in and follow God from this experience.
Ms. Hwang: I still remember and think daily about Pastor Foley, Dr. Foley and the other lecturers. I really appreciate their great efforts even from far away in America to teach UU students here. I will study the Bible more based on the knowledge I have attained in UU School and spread the gospel to those who do not know the true God in North Korea.
God has laid North Korea on my heart. Where do I start?
- Pray. VOM Korea provides guided prayer points on the ways you can intercede for and pray alongside the North Korean underground church. Sign up to receive the Prayer Partner Update. http://vomkorea.kr/resources/prayer-partner-update/
- Learn about the culture, history, and values of North Korea from these resources featured in this reading list: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/culture/2013/12/142_148698.html
- Listen to Pastor Foley speak about how to be as free as a North Korean Christian. It’s not as paradoxical as it sounds. Download the audio file here: http://vomkorea.kr/media/podcasts/how-to-be-as-free-as-a-north-korean-christian/
- Read “These are the Generations”, a chronicle of life in North Korea for a Christian family. http://vomkorea.kr/resources/books-cds-dvds/
- Write a card to a UU or UT student. We’ll help translate it. Let the student know you are praying for them, and include a Scripture verse which God has used in your life. Mail the card to VOM Korea, and we’ll hand-deliver it to the UU or UT class.
VOM Korea, 101, 46 Mapo-daero 4na-gil
Mapo-dong Mapo-Gu Seoul Korea 04176
- Plan to grow to fullness in Christ in relation to this cause by working with VOM Korea’s team to develop a comprehensive strategy for your involvement. Together we can help you search the scriptures, learn from underground Christians, pray knowledgeably for them and other North Koreans, incorporate this into your worship life, practice self-denial in partnership with your NK brothers and sisters, and give and serve effectively. Contact for more information.