Sunday, September 09, 2007

Activists cast light on North Korean underground church

Son Jong Nam …was the son of a high-ranking officer in the all-powerful military. … As an adult he became part of Kim Jong Il's personal security detail—paid well, and trusted implicitly.

All of which makes him a potent symbol now. … Son turned to one of the missionaries operating clandestinely along the border, helping refugees escape. Like many others Son converted to Christianity. Unlike most, he returned to North Korea to spread the Gospel. Today he sits on death row in Pyongyang, accused of being a spy.

Evangelicals have taken up Son's cause, drawing rare attention to the North's underground church. "To be a Christian is not just to follow a different religion," says Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs, one of several U.S. and South Korean Christian groups urging Son's release. "It's really seen almost as treason against their whole political system."

It's hard to say how many covert Christians the North has; estimates range from the low tens of thousands to 100,000. Missionaries say Christians often keep their Bibles buried in the backyard, wrapped in vinyl. Preachers based in China sometimes conduct services by mobile phone. In five to 10 minutes the pastor reads Bible passages and prays for the sick and needy. Services are kept short; the regime uses GPS trackers to locate the phones.

The Christian activists along the border are a dedicated bunch, but they have a vested interest in dramatizing the plight of their brethren in the North. The latest U.S. State Department human-rights report says that "members of underground churches have been beaten, arrested, detained in prison camps, tortured or killed" in the North, but emphasizes that such accounts are unconfirmed. Son hasn't been heard from in months. But his supporters remain convinced that they can help him to survive and, in so doing, win one small battle for a beleaguered faith.

[Excerpt of an article by Christian Caryl and B. J. Lee, Newsweek]

No comments: