A pastor on the China-North Korea border, Rev. Han Chung-Ryeol, shared his faith with at least 1,000 North Koreans in the Hermit Kingdom before he was assassinated in 2016, a defector claims. Rev. Han, a Chinese pastor of Korean descent, who ministered on the border town of Changbai since the early 1990s, was reportedly on Pyongyang’s most-wanted list as early as 2003 for his faith-based charitable work.
Rev. Han fed and sheltered thousands of North Koreans over the years — many of whom had fled the famine-stricken country in search of food and jobs. One of them, Sang-chul, shared his story in a short documentary from The Voice of the Martyrs: “In primary school, we were taught that all missionaries were terrorists,” Sang-chul shares in the video through a translator. “They told us that a missionary will be nice to you at first, but when they get you into their homes, then they will kill you and eat your liver.”
The North Korean said he didn’t have work or food in his village so he had snuck across the mountain border into China, picking mushrooms along the way in hopes of selling them in a market. He ran into Han, who offered to sell them and give him the money. Sang-chul knew something was different when the pastor didn’t cheat him out of any money, and wondered why a Chinese citizen would help him, knowing the danger.
“It is because I am a Christian,” Han reportedly said, causing the North Korean to be fearful of him.
And then one day Han told him: “God is real. There is hope for every person.” Sang-chul recalls, “I could not believe he would say that word, ‘God.’ Nobody says that word. … It is an act of treason…and can lead to soldiers coming in the night.”
Eventually, Sang-chul asked Rev. Han for a Bible, and then shared the gospel with his wife and best friend, who both found hope before he received the tragic news that Han was stabbed and axed to death by North Korean assassins. “Pastor Han gave his life, but he gave hope to me and to many other North Koreans,” Sang-chul said. “And despite the ever-present danger, many of us will continue to share the message that God is real.”