Chinese policy to get rid of all missionaries by 2017?

Proselytizing by foreigners is officially illegal in China, and China is no longer turning a blind eye.

Paul Yoo, a South Korean missionary, had lived untroubled by authorities for years in northeastern Chinese city. The knock on Mr. Yoo’s door marked the beginning of a quiet forced evacuation of foreign missionaries, including hundreds of South Koreans, some of whom have worked to train and convert Chinese, and others who have helped Christian defectors from North Korea.

Those who remain live in mounting fear that they will be next, as China’s new president Xi Jinping seeks to rid the country of foreign influences and effectively nationalize Christian churches to bring them under state control.

“This crackdown, and the people being deported, has intensified starting from May,” said Rev. Peter Jung, director of Justice For North Korea, which supports North Korean defectors. And, he said, “the number of missionaries getting arrested has increased.”

The Chinese pressure on missionaries, however, extends far beyond the North Korean border, suggesting Beijing’s chief motivation is concern about religion.

“One of the aims of Xi Jinping’s policies is to get rid of all missionaries by 2017,” said one missionary who continues to work in north-eastern China.

Such a claim is impossible to verify. Mr. Xi, the Chinese president, has publicly said no such thing. But fears in the missionary community of a coming clean sweep offer a window into the degree of alarm that has spread. The missionary asked The Globe to reveal no potentially identifying details, including his age or nationality, how much time he and his wife have spent in China or the nature of their work there.

[Globe and Mail]

Growing Christianity in China

Among the actions China has been guilty of: Detentions, the kidnapping of bishops, crackdowns on underground churches, as well as foreign missionaries on their North Korean border, and in the past few months, even entire churches have been torn down in China under the premise of building code violations. The Christian community has reacted in large numbers, with thousands showing up to protest the demolitions.

The rapidly growing popularity of religion may be seen as a threat to the Communist Party’s authority. “There’s a pattern of pendular movement in the Chinese government’s stance towards religion, of being repressive and then of being accommodating,” says Lionel Jensen, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, at the University of Notre Dame. “I think that the Chinese government doesn’t know how to go about assessing the strain along those lines.”

So when Pope Francis was given permission to fly over China on his way to and from South Korea, many saw it as a sign of hope for religious freedom in China. The state-run Global Times calls it a sign of “possible détente.”

Meanwhile, there are religious groups in China that have not been sanctioned by the state that worship underground.

Jin Tianming is a priest and member of Beijing Shouwang Church, an underground Protestant community. His group of worshipers has had trouble finding a permanent location to hold church gatherings, frequently suffering harassment from police, with members of the church arrested or detained on occasion. “We put our beliefs above society. I don’t think the two are compatible in any way,” says Jin.

The existence of unregistered religious groups makes it difficult to calculate the number of Christians in China. A Pew Research Center study from 2011 estimates the number of Christians inside China at 67 million, about 5% of the country’s total population at the time, amongst which around 10 million are Catholics. This is compared to 10 million Christians in total in 1996.

According to researchers, the numbers are rising quickly. Professor Fenggang Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, has predicted that China will be home to the largest Christian population by 2030.

[CNN]

Missionary activity in North Korea

Missionaries have sought to evangelize in North Korea, as the totalitarian country forbids independent religious activities. Although North Korea contains a number of state-controlled churches, they are considered for show to international audiences, according to a report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.

Religion, especially Christianity, is viewed as a political threat because the state does not condone any belief system other than its official state ideology, according to the report.

Witnesses claim that underground churches function inside North Korea, according to the U.N. report. Also, missionaries and underground churches have secretly set up in China near the border to aid defectors.

North Korea is currently holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American, who was arrested in November 2012. Bae was sentenced in May 2013, accused of trying to topple the North Korean government and bringing religious activities into the country. He has remained in North Korean custody despite efforts by the U.S. and his family.

More recently, North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced a South Korean man to life of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the country, according to its state-run news agency, KCNA. The South Korean, identified as Kim Jong Uk, averted the death sentence because he allegedly “repented of his crimes,” which included an attempt to set up an underground church inside the country.

Kim said he had worked as a missionary for several years on the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, running a church that sought North Korean converts.

[CNN]

North Korea sees Christians as ‘serious threat’

The recent 372-page U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that shows North Korean leaders considers the spread of Christianity a particularly “serious threat.”

This is because “it ideologically challenges the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the State realm,” says the report.

“Children are taught to revere and idolize Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and now Kim Jong-un. Plaques with slogans, posters and drawings expressing gratitude to the Supreme Leader are found in kindergartens irrespective of the children’s ability to fully comprehend these messages.

It said, “Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted. People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination.”

The report said one estimate suggests there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians still professing their religion secretly in North Korea despite the high risks.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay  welcomed the report and said “its findings need to be treated with the greatest urgency, as they suggest that crimes against humanity of an unimaginable scale continue to be committed in the DPRK.”

[Ecumenical News]

A revival of North Korean Christianity

In 1988, North Korean authorities suddenly decided to build a Catholic and a Protestant church in Pyongyang. North Korean refugees say that many Pyongyangites were shocked one day when they saw a building in the neighborhood that looked remarkably like a church (from propaganda pictures), with a cross atop its spire. For decades, North Koreans had been told that such places could possibly be only dens of spies and sadistic butchers (their reaction was perhaps similar to the average D.C. resident if they found a big al-Qaeda recruiting center in their neighborhood, complete with a large neon sign).

At present, there are four officially tolerated churches in Pyongyang (two Protestant, one Catholic and one Orthodox). Opinions are divided on how authentic these activities are. In any case, these political shows in Pyongyang should not distract us from the real revival of North Korean Christianity, which quietly began in the late 1990s in the Sino-North Korean borderlands. In the late 1990s, many North Koreans fled to China trying to escape a disastrous famine in their country. In 1998-99, the number of such refugees peaked at around 200,000.

Most of them established good contacts with ethnic Koreans in China. By that time, many Korean-Chinese had been converted to Christianity – which is increasingly seen worldwide as the major religion of the Korean diaspora. Thus, refugees came into contact with South Korean missionaries and/or their ethnic Korean converts, and many of them were converted. It helped that Korean churches in China were perhaps the only institutions that were ready to provide the refugees with assistance and a modicum of protection. Experienced refugees told novices that in the most desperate situation, when all else fails, they should look for a church.

Churches were also very involved with a kind of underground railway that helped North Korean refugees in China to move South. Inside South Korea, church communities are the major institution that provides otherwise generally neglected North Korean refugees with support and protection. One should not therefore be surprised that a significant number of North Korean refugees convert to Christianity soon after their arrival to the South.

Meanwhile in China, from around 2000, many missionaries began to train refugees to spread Christianity in North Korea proper. Many converts were indeed willing to take the risk and go back to their native villages and towns with Korean-language Bibles and other literature. Thus, North Korea’s catacomb church was born.

The North Korean government does not look upon such developments favorably. If a returning refugee is known to be in contact with missionaries he/she will face far more severe punishment. For the average non-religious border crosser, the punishment is likely to be a few months of imprisonment, but known religious activist is likely to spend 10 years in prison.

Nonetheless, the risks do not deter either missionaries or converts.

[NKNews.org]

North Korea’s irreconcilable relationship with Christianity

It is not widely known, but a significant part of the first generation of Korean communist leaders – people born between 1900 and 1920 – came from devote Christian families.

Kim Il Sung himself (grandfather of present leader Kim Jong Un) was no exception: Both his parents came from families of early converts to Christianity.

Until the Korean War, Pyongyang was a major stronghold of Korean Christianity. In the colonial days, it was not known as the “Jerusalem of the East” for nothing: in the 1930s Christians constituted some 30 percent of the population of the city (at the same time, only 1 percent of all Koreans were Christians).

However, communist ideologues were very hostile to religion, which they saw as the “opium of the masses.” In the Soviet Union under Stalin, the church was not officially outlawed, but it was subjected to systematic harassment. In the late 1940s the North Korean government co-opted the small number of church ministers willing to collaborate – these people were called “progressive churchmen.” Kang Ryang Uk, a Protestant missionary and distant relative of Kim Il Sung, was the most prominent of these collaborators. The vast majority of believers, however, were subjected to discrimination. The result was a massive exodus of Christians to South Korea.

From around 1956-57, North Korean authorities began to close down all the few surviving churches and religious associations in the country. From then on, the North Korean media claimed that North Korea was the only country free of “religious superstition.”

Christianity became the object of near constant and virulent attacks in the North Korean media. While all communist states sponsored anti-religious activities and propaganda, in few countries of the Communist Bloc was this propaganda as vicious as in North Korea.

In propaganda publications churchmen were not merely reactionary, but national traitors. As every reader of North Korean magazines and books knew well, churches were all controlled by foreign missionaries, who were mercenary spies of the foreign imperialists, or sometimes sadistic killers who fantasized about butchering the Korean nation. One recurrent topic of North Korean propaganda was missionary involvement in “organ snatching.” Missionary doctors were alleged to steal kidneys, eyes and bone marrow (among other things) from those innocent Koreans who were stupid enough to come to a missionary hospital. Alternatively, naive Korean patients were subject to diabolical experiments, conducted by the same missionary doctors.

[NKNews.org]         Read more

New South Korean film portrayal of Christian suffering in North Korea

Christians in North Korea face beatings, torture, arbitrary shooting and execution. It is difficult, though, to comprehend the true nature of the terror of the victims, the extent of the persecution, and the bravery of their struggle.

A new film, “The Apostle: He Was Anointed by God,” presents a fictionalized account based on stories culled by South Korean director Kim Jin-moo.

The plot revolves around Chul-ho who wants to lead villagers across the river to China and from there to South Korea. He, his family and friends, face varying degrees of terrorism by North Korean soldiers, some of them glad to accept bribes, others promising to get tough against dissidents in their midst.

The film introduces, on a highly personal level, the types of conflicts among all these people that we can only imagine – the aging father who just wants to pay off the authorities whenever expedient, the pregnant woman who hides away but also gets killed, the Christian who praises Kim Jong-il in a sermon in one of those phony authorized churches in Pyongyang, the young soldier who himself is a Christian and attends underground services while in uniform.

One of the more interesting studies in “The Apostle” is that of the North Korean squad leader who warns Christians of the troubles they face under a new, ambitious officer and then obeys the officer when expedient, as when villagers are shot and killed as they try to flee across the snow into China. The differences among North Koreans are essential to the credibility of the film since they portray characters who suffer not only from ideological fanaticism but also from opportunism and the need to survive under a brutal regime that will kill anyone who shows any sign of insubordination.

For those who worry about the fate of unknown tens of thousands of secret Christians in North Korea, this is a powerful film with a believable story. Chul-ho dies as a martyr to his faith. Peter Jung, founder of Justice for North Korea, presenting the film, complete with English subtitles, said his organization will show it on March 17 in Geneva during debate at the UN Council for Human rights on the report on human rights in North Korea by a commission authorized by the council.

A book by Jung and activist Kim Hi-tae, “The Persecuted Catacomb Christians of North Korea,” is quoted in the report. Copies of the book, in both English and Korean, were handed out after the screening of the film. It provides an astonishing glimpse into the history of Christianity in Korea, the suffering that Christians have endured historically and the brutality that exists today in North Korea.

[Forbes]

Australian missionary taken into custody in North Korea

A 75-year-old Australian missionary who traveled to North Korea as part of a tour group has been detained there, his wife said. John Short had with him some Gospel tracts in Korean “which seem to be at the core of the detention,” his wife said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is alleged he is being asked questions such as, ‘Who sent you?’, ‘To what organization do you belong?’, ‘Who translated this material into Korean?'” his wife, Karen Short, said.

Short, who lives in Hong Kong, went to Pyongyang on Saturday. The next night, police questioned him at his hotel and took him into custody, according to the statement.

Short has been arrested multiple times while doing evangelical work in China “for speaking out about brutality against Chinese Christians,” according to a biography on a religious website named Gospel Attract. In the 1990s, he became “persona non grata” with Chinese authorities for almost two years and was unable to visit mainland China, the biography said.

North Korea “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the state,” a United Nations panel said in a report released this week.

“People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination,” the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said.

[CNN]   

Christian persecution worst in North Korea

North Korea remains the world’s most restrictive nation in which to practice Christianity, according to the 2014 World Watch List released by Open Doors, a nonprofit organization helping persecuted Christians worldwide. The hermit kingdom is at the top of the rankings for the 12th consecutive year.

The list is compiled of countries where Christians face the most pressure and violence. In an interview with Fox News, Dr. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, said in North Korea, “it’s very dangerous to identify yourself as a Christian.”

“In some countries there are some freedoms and violence against Christians is noted in news media … in North Korea the control is total,” said Curry. “Reports that have been getting out that have been identified and confirmed by the U.N.  about what is happening to Christians, the kinds of torture that are happening to them … is absolutely inhumane.”

Curry said Kim’s regime might feel threatened by people in North Korea practicing Christianity.

“There’s a weird theocracy that’s been developed over three generations … that’s is especially fearful of any sort of spirituality or personal faith that would run contrary to the fact Kim Jong-Un [and his predecessors] … consider themselves Gods,” said Curry.

[Fox News]

The North Korean Underground Church

One of the first things Eric Foley, the co-founder of Seoul USA, learned about the North Korean underground church is that it is not a group to be pitied. About 10 years ago Foley asked a member of the underground church how he could pray for them. He recalls the North Korean’s response, “You, pray for us? We pray for you … because South Korean and American churches believe challenges in the Christian faith are solved by money, freedom, and politics. It’s only when all you have is God do you realize God is all you need.”

Unlike the Chinese underground church, North Korean Christians can’t risk gathering together because spies are everywhere. Instead, they worship in their own household or in the common areas, like while walking down the road out of earshot.

Foley estimates about 100,000 Christians live in North Korea, with about a third of them in concentration camps. Members of the church have told Foley they see concentration camps as just another mission field — North Korean officials have had to separate Christians from other prisoners because they keep sharing the gospel.

As North Korea fell under Communist rule after World War II, Christians realized they would soon face intense persecution. Some escaped to South Korea, where they could worship freely, but those who stayed chose four foundational pillars of Christianity they could pass on to future generations.

Physical copies of the Bible are rare for poor households, as government officials regularly check their homes. If officials find a Bible, the government will send the family to concentration camps or kill them. Seoul USA has been able to send Bibles over to North Korea using balloons — 50,000 Bibles dropped into the country this past year. The group also produces short-wave radio programs with North Korean defectors reading the Bible, as about 20 percent of North Koreans illegally own radios.

The government deems Christianity a threat because North Korea’s Juche ideology, which mixes Marxism with worship of the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung and his family, is partially copied from Christianity. Kim, who attended church until eighth grade, took Christian concepts like the trinity, church services, and hymns and made it all about himself. If people found out about Christ, they’d see Kim and his lineage as the frauds they are.

With a zero-tolerance policy for Christianity, Christians are careful who they tell about their faith. They don’t reveal their belief to their spouses until years after marriage, and they can’t tell their children until they turn 15, as teachers are trained to extract such information from students.

Foley has also met defectors who “know Bible stories told differently or some Christian songs. North Korean Christians are very careful to pass on the treasure and for their family members to guard it and only over time realize what it is.” Seoul USA sees its role as discipling the church in North Korea by providing resources like the radio and Bibles, as well as starting Underground University to train North Korean defectors to become missionaries to their own people.

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