Interview with undercover workers in North Korea
Undercover Field Workers Risk Their Lives to Save North Koreans For Eternity
Open Doors has established secret safe houses and networks in China to help North Korean refugee Christians and support the Persecuted Church. This is dangerous work and only after a long period of training and praying will our field workers move to their ministry area close to the border between China and North Korea. In this rare interview, Peter* and Matthew* talk about their calling, the risks and rewards, and trusting in God under all circumstances.
Matthew, why did you become a field worker serving North Korean Christians?
Matthew: There had been great famine in North Korea. Hearing the news about millions of people who died [in the 1990s], I felt God was calling me to serve those people in North Korea. They had nothing, they starved. That’s already a tragedy, but if they died without knowing Jesus, that would be the worst tragedy. These thoughts came to me while I was praying. Now, I serve via Open Doors ministry in the field.
Peter, what kind of work do you do to help North Koreans?
Peter: My work is to meet the North Korean people who have already heard of Jesus some time in their lives. There are quite a few of them in North Korea [and many come to China]. To help them survive the North Korean system, without having to come out again, and help them keep their faith within the country, I provide them with spiritual and physical help. This helps the underground church to preserve her faith in North Korea.
How difficult is this work?
Matthew: There are many difficult situations. There have been many incidents in the fields. Only some are reported by the news. Some incidents are true acts of terrorism. [He is referring to the killing of Chinese Korean pastor Han in 2016, who was slaughtered by North Korean secret agents.]
When these things happened, I was terrified. I’m sure that those missionaries [who have been killed] received warnings before. They probably thought: ‘I will be fine’. But then it happened. [They were killed.] I keep telling myself to be careful. It can happen to me. Those fears surround me from time to time.
Without your prayers, I cannot carry out this mission. Through your prayers, God pours out His grace.
Peter: Difficulties can also be physical. The area where we work is very cold, sometimes below minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter and the winter lasts for six months.
I remember one night, it was a very cold winter. The temperature went well below -28℃. It was one o’clock in the morning. I was to meet a local partner at one place. But he did not answer my calls and he was not there. I tried to contact him for three hours. At about four o’clock in the morning, my phone rang suddenly. It was his number. When I answered, I heard a strange man. He asked me, “Who are you?”
[I was so shocked that] it felt like I was struck on the head. Immediately, I threw my phone on the ground and smashed it with a stone. Then I threw it in a drain hole. But I had nowhere to go in this strange city. I stood in the freezing cold on the streets until the next morning. Then I quickly left the city with public transport. Later I found out that my partner was being investigated by the police and even agents from North Korea.
You hear about a lot of tragedies and people who do work like you have even been killed or abducted. Have you ever been disappointed with God?
Peter: In my ministry life, God never disappoints. Rather, I thank God so much. I thank God for calling me for the mission. I’m not good enough, but God is still using me.
Matthew: Grumble at God? Never. Not once.
What fruits do you see in the ministry field?
Peter: I heard about a group of a believers [whom I’ve trained] who returned to North Korea. During the summer months they sometimes go to the cornfields and hide at night. There they worship and pray to God. Or sometimes they worship God deep in the woods. Once, about seventeen people gathered secretly.
Could you explain to our supporters why the mission should continue?
Peter: Among all the countries of the world, Christians in North Korea are the most persecuted. Even at this moment, they go through tribulations and pain, but they still look to God and pray to God. We need to remember our brothers and sisters there. We need to pour [out] our hearts for the believers. The important thing is we must continue this work until this land of idolatry is restored and overflows with holy worship and praise.
Matthew: There are people in North Korea who believe in Jesus Christ. Some are what we call remnant Christians. Those [secret believers] are descendants of Christian ancestors.
Also, there are those Christians who received Jesus in China in the 1990s and 2000s. Some abandoned the faith but there are people who are holding on to the faith. It will be such a praise point if they manage to keep their faith until the end.
But my true hope is – if God allows – that we as a global church are able to connect to the North Korean believers. I believe we can help them. They can also share their testimonies with us. I believe that’s what [being] ‘one body of Christ’ is all about. We must do our share of work for them.
Actually, it is hard for those of us who were raised within a rich Christian culture to settle on hard mission fields, especially in a hostile environment. But I believe that in God’s time, he will use the North Korean believers as powerful missionaries for other persecuted areas.
Peter: In the book of Nehemiah when he heard the news that Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down, he turned to God, and started to fast and pray with tears in his heart. North Korea’s churches were demolished seventy years ago and all the followers of Jesus Christ went underground to survive the oppression. I pray that God will restore North Korea and His people, like He restored Jerusalem and the Israelites.
Matthew: Those North Korean believers are striving to keep their faith, a pure faith. We can never ill-speak about them and the Church. They received a precious gift from God.
As a field worker, I get to learn the footsteps of the former missionaries [among North Korean people]. Many of those Christian were martyred in North Korea. Some were abducted, some killed. I believe their confession was Galatians 2:20: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
As the world’s most persecuted land, North Korea urgently needs your prayers. Your prayers will strengthen them to worship God in the land. Thanks to your prayers and support, the North Korean Christians remain faithful believers in the land.
*Name changed for security reasons.
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