Christian group air-drops Bibles into North Korea

A Colorado-based Christian group is air-dropping Bibles on North Korea. Over the past year, Pastor Eric Foley and his Christian mission group, Seoul USA, have released around 50,000 40-foot homemade, hydrogen-filled balloons outfitted with Bibles and personal testimonials over rural areas of the country, Fox News reports. Bibles are attached to the balloons in a box or a bag.

Even after seven years of sending them up, though, Foley says, “I get choked up, every time, as I let go and watch it take off.”

In North Korea, citizens are forced to follow the state ideology known as “The Juche Idea.” Christians there “are the most persecuted believers on earth,” Foley told Fox. He estimates that there are around 100,000 Christians in the country. The network reports that 30,000 of those Christians “are believed to be locked inside concentration camps, where they are overworked, starved, tortured, and killed.”

In 2009, a 33-year-old woman was publicly executed in North Korea after being accused of distributing the Bible.

[Huffington Post]


North Korea “executes 80 people for watching foreign films”

North Korea has publicly executed 80 people for watching foreign television programs, a South Korean newspaper claims. JoongAng Ilbo daily reported that the killings were carried out in seven separate cities on November 3, with an alleged 10,000 people forced to attend one group execution held in a sports stadium in the eastern port city Wonsan.

Citing a “single unidentified” individual as the source of the story, the newspaper said the majority of those executed had been charged with “watching illicit South Korean TV dramas and some with prostitution”.

The story gained credibility when Daily NK – an online media agency run by North Korean defectors – said it had also heard the reports of mass executions taking place.

During the front page report, the JoongAng Ilbo reporter cites another defector group as saying it had warned of a forthcoming wave of executions several months ago.

A spokesman for North Korea Intellectual Solidarity reportedly said “The regime is obviously afraid of potential changes in people’s mind-sets and is pre-emptively trying to scare people off”.

Watching films or television from capitalist countries – especially South Korea – is a serious offence in North Korea, but despite the risk of execution, shows like Desperate Housewives from the US have acquired a large following.

It is thought the majority of the programs are smuggled into the country on DVDs, MP3 players and Flash drives.

[The Independent]

EU and S. Korea call for ban on forced repatriation of North Korean refugees

South Korean President Park Geun-hye held summits with Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and José Manuel Durão Barroso, president of the European Commission, on Friday and agreed to expand cooperation with the EU in the fields of small and medium businesses and science and technology.

During the summit with the EU leaders, an agreement was established that North Korea should abandon its program for nuclear and missile development “in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.” They also expressed serious concerns over North Korea`s dire human rights situation. In particular, they shared the view that North Korean refugees` safety and happiness should be guaranteed and that the principle of no forced repatriation should be respected.

[Dong-A Ilbo]

American missionary marks one year in North Korean custody

The U.S. State Department is renewing its call for North Korea to release a U.S. Christian missionary hospitalized in Pyongyang after being sentenced to 15 years at a hard labor camp.

Kenneth Bae, an American citizen, was arrested on Nov. 3, 2012, in the port city of Rajin and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” and “plotting to overthrow the government.”

Bae, who was sent to a special labor camp where he was the only prisoner, was hospitalized after three months when his health started to fail, his sister Terri Chung said, adding that her 45-year-old brother suffers from diabetes and an enlarged heart, among other medical conditions. Bae’s mother, Myunghee Bae, was recently granted a five-day visa to North Korea last month to visit her son for a total of six hours.

“We continue to work actively to secure Mr. Bae’s release, working in close consultation with the Swedish Embassy,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said. “If the DPRK renews its invitation, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Ambassador Robert King is prepared to travel to the DPRK on a humanitarian mission focused on securing the release of Mr. Bae.”

Bae, who has a wife and three children, is a Christian missionary who was based in China and working as a tour guide at the time of his arrest. He has been held longer by the North Korean regime than any other known U.S. citizen since the Korean War, according to International Christian Concern, a Washington, D.C.-based activist group that focuses on the human rights of Christians.

[Fox News]

North Korea says South Korean spy arrested in capital

North Korea’s security agency said Thursday it arrested a South Korean spy in Pyongyang who intended to rally anti-government forces, a claim that intelligence officials in Seoul quickly called ridiculous and groundless.

Outside analysts usually view such North Korean antics as a way to strengthen domestic support for leader Kim Jong Un – but specific claims that an individual spy has been captured, especially before an investigation is concluded, are unusual.

The North’s claim comes amid worsening ties. The Koreas had turned to tentative diplomacy after a spring that saw a near-daily barrage of threats, including North Korean warnings of nuclear strikes on Seoul and Washington. But tension has renewed since North Korea canceled planned reunions in September of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North Korean security ministry said that the South Korean initially said he was a Chinese citizen living in North Korea and then said he was a citizen of another country. The initial investigation found that the South Korean spent six years in a country bordering North Korea using religion to disguise anti-North Korea espionage activities, the North’s statement alleged.

Many South Korean missionaries work with North Korean defectors and border-crossers in China. One year ago, Kenneth Bae, an American missionary and tour operator, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being arrested for alleged hostile acts in North Korea.

North Korea officially recognizes freedom of religion, but it tolerates only sanctioned churches, and activists and defectors call it one of the world’s worst places for religion.


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.

[Read full article