Christian groups in North Korea are vowing to carry on their missionary work despite mounting risks since Korean-American activist Kenneth Bae was imprisoned two years ago.
North Korea and neighboring China have clamped down on the groups’ activities recently, and the organizations say that has forced them to become more secretive. Bae’s unexpected release has not changed that.
Bae has remained silent on his missionary work and his imprisonment. On Monday, Bae’s sister said he would not do interviews. Such reticence is necessary, said one U.S.-based activist, because of the dangers involved in propagating religion, especially in an overt, organized way, in a totalitarian state. “If one person is caught, then everyone else can suffer the consequences,” said Sam Kim, executive director of the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, which is based in Southern California.
“We have to come up with a strategy to avoid another case like Kenneth Bae’s,” said Kim Seung-eun, a missionary for the Caleb Mission, which is based in South Korea’s South Chungcheong Province but frequently travels to North Korea.
Open Doors, a group that monitors religious persecution globally, says North Korea is the worst country to be Christian. It says 70,000 Christians are in labor camps there.
The clamp-down on Christian-backed humanitarian organizations along the North Korea-China border has made it harder for activists to aid fleeing North Koreans. “The people I talk to – the rescuers – say that it’s tough right now,” said Melanie Kirkpatrick, who has written a history of the “underground railroad,” the network that helps people escape from North Korea.