Date: August 4, 2021
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 609 | Wed 04 Aug 2021
NORTH KOREA: DESPERATE FOR A BREAKTHROUGH
plus, advocacy for North Koreans detained in China
by Elizabeth Kendal
Kim and Moon step forward together.
Inter-Korean Summit, April 2018
On 16 June 2020 the North Korean (NK) regime blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, unilaterally severing cross-border communications with the South. The action came after activists in South Korea (SK) resumed sending anti-regime propaganda leaflets north across the border in violation of an agreement - brokered during the historic April 2018 Inter-Korean Summit - to end the propaganda war. As the inter-Korean liaison office went up in smoke, so too did more than two years of delicate, hope-filled rapprochement [see RLPB 555, 'Hopes Fade as Tensions Soar', 24 June 2020]. Now, 13 months on, cross-border communications have been restored. The phone call which took place between North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday 27 July - the 68th anniversary of the 27 July 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War - was their first in more than a year. Kim and Moon had been exchanging personal letters since April; it was in those communications that the two leaders agreed to take steps to recover trust and improve ties.
The rapprochement comes as North Korea faces its most severe crisis in decades. In January 2020, acutely aware that its totally inadequate health sector would collapse if COVID-19 were to take hold, North Korea sealed its border with China, ending cross-border trade and crippling domestic markets. Today, North Koreans are dying; not from COVID-19, but from famine and other diseases (such as tuberculosis) as their stockpiles of food and medicines run out. NK's Kim regime is acutely aware that SK's pro-engagement President Moon Jae-in - for whom rapprochement with the North is deeply personal [see RLPB 446 (14 March 2018)] - will end his single five-year term as president in March 2022. So, for the Kim regime, if rapprochement is to be advanced and assistance received, time is of the essence.
North and South together;
PyeongChang Winter Olympics, February 2018.
As hardship has escalated, so too has discontent, especially among the young who have lived better than their parents (and therefore have greater expectations), and are increasingly aware of life outside NK. As Daily NK reports (31 May): 'Recent surveys among defectors show a high percentage of them consumed foreign media while living in North Korea. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Unification Media Group, 91% of respondents said they had consumed South Korean and other foreign content while still living in North Korea. This is despite 75% of them having also witnessed someone being punished for engaging in this same behaviour.' Indeed, black market radios, computers and mobile phones have been creeping into the blacked-out state for years; while American, South Korean and Christian content has long been smuggled in on contraband memory sticks. In February 2018 NK youths had watched as NK athletes marched with SK athletes under the unification flag in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. They watched in hope as their new-generation leader Kim Jong-un met with Presidents Moon and then Trump in April and June of 2018, only to have their hopes dashed in February 2019 when the Hanoi summit [RLPB 490 (20 Feb 2019)] ended in failure.
In December 2020, in an effort to counter ideological contamination and contain unrest, the regime enacted the 'Law on the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture'. On 28 July Daily NK reported that the prison population had grown by some 20,000 since March 2020 as North Koreans fell foul of COVID restrictions and the law against reactionary thought. Due to COVID restrictions, relatives are banned from delivering food to the prisons; consequently, prisoners are starving. In early July Kim ordered that the military's storehouses be opened, and the grain sold at a discounted price to the masses through government run stores. A high-ranking major-general in charge of logistics openly criticised the order as 'unrealistic' - for as it turns out, military storehouses have been largely empty since the days of Kim's father. In a desperate effort to deflect from his own failings, Kim had the official executed for 'sectarianism'. Amidst escalating purges, punishments and hunger the military is reportedly boiling with discontent.
In his treatise Rebuilding Russia (Harvill, 1990), Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented the 'spiritual catastrophe of 1917' and what it produced: a society built on lies. He called for deep systemic reform that would give Russians back their country and revitalise traditional [Christian] values. 'Time has finally run out for communism,' he wrote. 'But its concrete edifice has not yet crumbled. May we not be crushed beneath its rubble instead of gaining liberty.'
There can be little doubt that time is running out for the North Korean regime. While the West is full of 'hawks' - supposedly fuelled with righteous indignation - who would love to bomb Pyongyang flat or somehow accelerate the regime's collapse, we need to remember that North Korea happens to be filled with North Koreans, victims of 'spiritual catastrophe', struggling to survive in a society built on lies. And while most North Koreans have no memory or even knowledge of the great Pyongyang Revival of 1907 [see: 1907 Revival, a 10-min film with archival footage] which transformed the Korean Peninsula and saw Pyongyang labelled 'the Jerusalem of the East', God remembers! For 68 years a remnant Church, fortified by martyrs, has endured prayerfully in prisons, labour camps, and underground. For 68 years, Koreans in the South and around the world have prayed with tears for their captive brethren. A furious spiritual battle is underway for North Korea. Please pray!
'O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy'. (Habakkuk 3:2 ESV)
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
* protect, sustain and richly bless North Korea's long-suffering and severely persecuted remnant Church.
* send the Holy Spirit to revive and transform North Korea yet again; may desperate North Koreans be drawn into prayer, to seek mercy from a God they do not know, a God whom they will find is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness (from Exodus 34:1-9). 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.' (from Zechariah 4:6 ESV)
* bind and restrain all evil forces who seek to sow chaos and sustain repression where God seeks to sow peace and deliver liberty. '[Jesus Christ] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.' (1 Peter 3:22 ESV)
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:7,8 ESV)
ADVOCACY FOR NORTH KOREANS DETAINED IN CHINA
On 14 July China repatriated some 50 North Korean escapees, comprising citizens and defecting soldiers, including an air force officer. They had been held in detention centres in Shenyang and Tumen, China, for as long as two years. Advocates fear they will face incarceration and severe punishment including the death penalty. With hundreds of other North Korean escapees similarly imperilled, the UK's All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea appealed to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, requesting he speak with Chinese and South Korean ambassadors in London with the goal of having North Korean refugees sent to South Korea which will automatically receive them under its 'one Korea' policy. Please pray that God will bless this advocacy; and may it be replicated around the world.