North Korea (MNN) — In an historic New Year's address, North Korea's Kim Jong-un told the nation he planned to tackle the economy, relations with South Korea, and more.
Todd Nettleton, spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, "He talked about unification with South Korea being ‘the most urgent assignment' for North Korea, that ‘it can no longer be delayed.' Of the things that he didn't say: he didn't make the demand that U.S. troops be out of South Korea before there could be any talk of reunification."
What is Kim Jong-un's vision of reunification? It's the unknown that is unsettling. "If you think about the entire Korean peninsula under one government, which government is it? Is it the democracy of South Korea which has produced a very large church, a very large Christian population? Or is it one Korean peninsula under Kim Jong-un with the controls that we see in North Korea?" ponders Nettleton.
The two countries are technically still at war, so talk of peace was startling. Can this conciliatory tone be believed? Nettleton says, "It's hard to say if that is going to produce action, concrete steps, or if that was just a speech and we shouldn't give it too much weight."
Although the address didn't have the normal recriminations, it is possible he had an ulterior motive? The country is completely dedicated to the ideology of "Juche," which means "self-reliance," Nettleton explains: "The North Koreans understand that they need outside help, and some of that is obviously going to come from South Korea. Some of that is going to be in the form of trade, some of that is going to be in the form of aid. So they need to have a relationship with South Korea and the outside world, even if they may not want it."
After decades of economic mismanagement, North Korea has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population. Credible reports reveal the malnourished existing on diets of grass and tree bark as a result of chronic food shortages. The UN estimates that roughly half of its over 20 million inhabitants are suffering from malnutrition, and the reality of famine isn't far off.
Further, Nettleton says, Kim's message might not actually point to a policy change. In the past, the North has made friendly gestures and promised to adhere to U.N. resolutions. "Talk is cheap. We will wait to see what the actions are. I think it's notable because it's so different from what we've heard in the past. But we'll kind of play ‘wait and see' now to see if there are actions that come behind the words and show that the North Korean government is serious about doing things differently in the future."
Two years ago, Burma was in the same situation. Few thought real change would stick under the country's repressive junta government. Today, many faith-based organizations working there are cautiously optimistic about the change being real. Could the same thing be happening in North Korea? One can hope. "For the Christians of South Korea, and for the Christians of North Korea, they would hope for a unified Korea that offers religious freedom and offers churches the chance to build, Christians the chance to evangelize and share their faith, and everyone the freedom to worship as they see fit."
In the meantime, 200,000-400,000 Christians remain deeply underground. If things remain constant, the penalties for being caught will continue to be harsh, and more often, deadly. "We need to pray for the Christians in both countries–I think, in particular, for the Christians of North Korea. We know they suffer greatly because of their faith, so it's important–whatever direction things go at the governmental level–that we pray for our brothers and sisters who live in North Korea."
Voice of the Martyrs has found ways to help the underground church. "We are doing broadcasts into North Korea," says Nettleton. "Some of those broadcasts tell the stories of persecuted Christians. Some of them simply read the Bible so that the North Koreans can write down the words that they're hearing."
In addition, utilizing weather balloon technology, Christians in South Korea send balloons over the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) carrying New Testaments, Scripture verses, and other Gospel messages into North Korea. "It is not possible to go and buy a Bible. So in order to get the Gospel in, we have to do some creative things. The balloon project is one of those."
How effective is the balloon project? In the first eight months of last year, more than 7,900 New Testaments were sent to North Korea using this method. Aside from some security issues, they could do more if they had the funds to marshal.
The other thing that can be done is to pray, says Nettleton. "There's a new president that has just been elected in South Korea. She has talked about having talks with North Korea without any preconditions. So, I think we need to be praying for the leaders of both countries as they pursue these conversations, as they make decisions, that they will be in accordance with God's will."
Other specific needs:
• Pray that North Korean believers will persevere in what is probably the most difficult country to be a Christian.
• Pray for the leader and his cadre that the Holy Spirit will bring them to repentance and belief.
• Pray for a watershed moment in God's timing that will bring thorough change, freedom, and complete transformation to this land.
• Pray for safety for North Korean refugees in China who live in hiding and are hunted by Chinese and North Korean agents.
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