North Korean ministry doesn’t only happen in North Korea. Every year, tens of thousands of North Koreans cross the border of North Korea and enter the countries surrounding it. Many work in factories to earn money for the North Korean government, which typically keeps more than 90% of wages earned. Others in good standing with the North Korean government travel to China to visit family there. Some who are not in good standing with the North Korean government cross the border illegally, looking for any work which will enable them to earn money to send back to their families inside North Korea.
Some of the North Koreans who leave North Korea each year are beginning epic journeys of thousands of miles across China and Southeast Asia, with the goal of reaching prisons mainly in Thailand, from whence they are conveyed to South Korea. But by far the largest category of those crossing the border out of North Korea each year are North Korean women, who are sold to men in China as wives. Some go because they are kidnapped. Some know they will be sold but choose to go anyway, seeing it as the only way of helping their families. Most go because they are deceived, told by brokers that jobs await them in China.
Many organizations focus on helping these sex-trafficked North Korean women to escape to South Korea. But Voice of the Martyrs Korea does not support or participate with such projects. Instead, in partnership with underground Christians, we disciple these women and watch with amazement as God uses them to transform not only their Chinese husbands and children, but also China and even North Korea. Why invest in these women where they are rather than “saving” or “rescuing” them? The reason why is best shown through a story:
According to the experts, Christians in China are currently facing some of the fiercest persecution since the Cultural Revolution [link to “New Regulations Cast Grim Future for China’s Religious Freedom”]. However, you never would have guessed this if you saw VOMK partner Pastor K’s church!
Whether it be weekday or weekend, Pastor K’s church is filled with Christ-seekers of all ages and backgrounds. Pastor K lives in an area where there are several North Korean woman who were sold to Chinese men and these women actually make up a hefty portion of his congregation.
Each week, Pastor K goes out of his way to visit and disciple these women and their Chinese husbands. Since Pastor K lives in a rural and undeveloped region of China, driving out to these women’s houses can take hours—or even days! However, he considers these visits vital to their spiritual growth and willingly sacrifices his own time and health to care for them. And God blesses his sacrifice.
Before their wives met Pastor K, many Chinese husbands were distrustful of Christians. Churches and missions in China have a reputation for separating families by helping North Korean defectors, orphans, and sex-trafficked women defect to South Korea. Several of these husbands were afraid that Christians would “steal” their wives and ship them off to South Korea.
But, these husbands soon realized, Pastor K was different.
They watched their wives heal under Pastor K’s care. Before, their wives were depressed. But now they sing along to hymns from an MP3 player that Pastor K gave them (an MP3 player provided by VOMK which includes Korean language hymns, Faith Comes By Hearing’s dramatized version of the New Testament, and VOMK’s recorded Old Testament as well as several other discipleship resources). Before, their wives would complain about having no money or future. But now they spoke about a beautiful heaven to come and a savior whose love was worth more than any currency.
These husbands were astonished by the change they saw in their wives—and they were even further astonished when Pastor K, who lived hours away from them, showed up at their doorstep just to check in and see how they were doing. Pastor K wasn’t perfect and he didn’t always have the right words to say, but he was there and he shared the love of Christ with them. This was enough to win their hearts.
Now, each time we visit Pastor K, we find a new Han Chinese husband has joined the congregation—even if only to support their wife or Pastor K. Although many of these husbands still struggle to believe, some have seen God’s character through their wives (and through Pastor K) and have come to embrace Him. Only recently, Pastor K baptized one of these Chinese husbands, a man who saw God work miracles by almost completely healing his wife’s cancer.
Despite the hand of God truly blessing his ministry (or perhaps because of it) Pastor K is humble: He is constantly seeking out ways to grow spiritually. Whenever our staff visit, he asks for discipleship materials to read and advice to follow. Daily, he reads the discipleship material that VOMK develops and applies it. However, the time will come (and, due to the recent restrictions in China against Christians, perhaps it will come soon) when we will be unable to meet Pastor K to supply him with the resources he needs. When that day comes, what will we do?
Since China’s new religious laws were implemented in February, China has intensified its crackdown on any form of Christianity that is not controlled by or subservient to the state. More than a thousand missionaries have been expelled from China in the past eighteen months. And even in the state controlled churches, crosses—and sometimes even whole church buildings—are torn down. Those who help North Koreans can be arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. (link of a related article: RENOWNED CHINESE CHRISTIAN LAWYER DIES – VOMK CALLS CHINA TO ACCOUNT FOR DEATH)
As a result, many Chinese Churches have turned their backs away from the North Koreans in their midst. With missionaries gone, churches frightened, and true believers driven farther underground, it is tempting to say that these new religious laws are a major setback for God and a major advance for the Chinese government. But to think like this would be to overlook 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
Even though the Chinese government has political power and economic strength, the message of Cross remains the wisdom of God and the power of God. That message is foolishness to the powerful but wisdom to the weak. The Chinese government rarely stops to worry about them. They are the North Koreans in China. They lack worldly power or freedom or wealth or even the ability to speak Chinese. They receive the gospel and experience every dimension of its power, because it pleases God to reveal himself in this way to them. They do the word of God simply because he has called them, and they have responded in faith and trust.
One of these North Korean woman who we will call MG. If you met MG, you might be tempted to pity her. Like most sex-trafficked North Korean women, she is poor and suffers from several health problems. Her husband is a Chinese man who isn’t sure how to interact with her and often treats her poorly. But in her suffering and weakness, MG is a mighty warrior of Christ.
Although MG had no knowledge of Christ before coming to China, she came into contact with one of our discipleship bases and came to know and serve Christ. Through the UNKCM program, she was able to receive:
1) a Bible in her own North Korean dialect;
2) an MP3 player with the Faith Comes By Hearing dramatized New Testament, Korean hymns, and discipleship materials from the underground church;
3) personal discipleship through the base leader and the base leader’s family.
Over time, people around MG were amazed by her spiritual growth. Although she had no formal education, the time at our discipleship base equipped her to take up her cross and follow Christ—and to encourage others to do the same. Even though Chinese churches turn their backs on North Koreans seeking help, a Chinese church in her area sought her out to teach a Bible Study for young North Koreans in China, and to visit other North Koreans in Chinese hospitals. Although a hospital visit may not sound difficult or impressive, hospital visits in MG’s region of China can be arduous: Villages are remote and so a visit to the hospital can take up an entire day! Often, North Korean women are not able to take public transportation, because they are in China illegally; if they are discovered, they will be returned to North Korea and its labor camps. When MG does her hospital visits, she doesn’t just tell fellow North Koreans to “get well soon.” MG preaches the word that she heard at our discipleship base and teaches them how to reach their husbands, children, and neighbors for Christ.
If MG had gone to any other ministry, they almost certainly would have encouraged her to cut ties with the Chinese man who bought her and escape to South Korea. But this would have extinguished one of the few remaining lights that Christ has in China. Rather than seeing MG as a victim in need of saving, we see her the way God sees her: as a victor who is ready to save those around her for Christ.
EST has had a hole in her lung for many years. Even when sitting down, breathing is very painful for her. But EST is very reluctant to go to a doctor. This isn’t because EST is afraid that the doctor will tell her something that EST doesn’t want to hear. It’s because EST has been taught that she isn’t worth a trip to the doctor.
EST is a woman who was sex trafficked and sold to a Chinese man. Because EST was bought like a piece of property, EST’s new family treats her like property. EST’s father and mother-in-law are more than willing to spend money when their son is sick, but they refuse to spend a dime when EST falls ill.
The hole is EST’s lungs did not happen because EST has mistreated her body. The hole in EST’s lungs happened because EST had several chronic illnesses that were left untreated. And EST isn’t the only one.
We’ve met several North Korean women in the field who suffer from debilitating diseases and/or day to day medical needs. These women care for their husbands, their children, and their usually elderly in-laws. But when these women become sick, no one stands up to help them.
There is good news: Even though North Korean women are sold as sex slaves, they are becoming not only faithful and caring mothers but also God’s great disciples. They evangelize and teach their children the Bible and Gospel songs. Also VOMK equips them to go and reach out to more North Korean women in the same situation, for the sake of the Gospel. So they have become frontline workers, evangelizing and discipling and planting house churches wherever North Korean women have been sold into slavery. Most of them remain in contact with their families or relatives inside North Korea. They are part of God’s plan to be used for his kingdom.
Their roles are significant in the Kingdom of God. Some of their Han Chinese husbands have accepted Christ and brought all the Buddha statues out of their homes and broke them to pieces by trampling them underfoot. Hallelujah! These great works have been done by women who had been sold as sex slaves.
Please pray for them to be equipped to be God’s frontline workers.