Korean Peninsula (MNN) — Last Friday was called a historic day when North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met for the first time.
The world praised the Inter-Korean Summit as a critical step towards peace. But Eric Foley with Voice of the Martyrs Korea says it’s an empty peace focused on denuclearization and ignoring North Korea’s human rights violations against its people.
“This is not what we’ve been praying for.”
VOM Korea’s underground network is in touch with North Korean Christians. Foley shares, “Over the weekend, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of North Korean Christians and ask them the question, ‘What do you think?’ Their response is that they are very surprised that believers in the rest of the world have set aside the things we’ve been praying for related to North Korea and are receiving the current circumstances as kind of an answer to prayer.”
“Their comment is this: ‘This is not what we’ve been praying for.’”
At the Inter-Korean Summit, Moon and Kim signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula. The two leaders promised in this declaration to end the Korean War.
The signed agreement also included commitments to establish a joint liaison office between the two Koreas, reunite separated families, update railways and roads between Seoul and Sinuiju, cease all hostile acts against one another, and create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
However, Foley says these terms are really nothing new. “If we look back to the newspaper articles from 1991, I pulled up a newspaper article from the New York Times 1991 from one of the first Inter-Korean Summits and it was amazing how almost exact the wording was between the present summit and that particular meeting. In other words, although the faces of the leaders have changed, the promises remained the same.”
Is Anything New?
The latest posturing of civility and peace by North Korea, so far, seems to be nothing more than window dressing. In the hidden recesses of its country, millions of people still live in fear of their dictatorship or suffer in prison camps.
“One of the things we have to look at is to say, ‘Is North Korea offering anything new?’ And the answer is no,” says Foley. “North Korea always wants to focus the rest of the world’s attention on its own belligerence towards other nations. So what they’re saying here is, ‘We will be less belligerent towards you in exchange for certain concessions.’ But notice what North Korea is not willing to talk about, and that is the war on their own people. This is what North Korean Christians remind us to stay focused on.”
“Even in the United States’ very brief mention of human rights, North Korea responded by saying this: ‘This throws cold water on the warm events of this past week.’ In other words, ‘Focus on the missiles we have pointed at you, not the missiles we have pointed at our own people.’
“To have North Korea not threaten the rest of the world by not launching nuclear weapons is not peace. It’s simply negotiating with a bully.”
In one seeming gesture of goodwill, North Korea is planning to release three American prisoners, two of whom are Christians. This announcement comes ahead of United States President Donald Trump’s impending meeting with Kim.
While this may be an encouraging sign for international relations, the fact remains that Christians who are citizens of North Korea continue to suffer beyond the global spotlight.
“It is still a regime which is a terrorist regime to its own people. It has always been willing throughout its history to make concessions to other countries based on military activity that it’s built up. But when we try to turn the attention to how it treats its own people, North Korea always says no, that’s off limits. Until that changes, there is no foundation for us to build on when we think as Christians about what a biblical peace would look like in North Korea,” Foley explains.
The Foundation for True Peace
So how does true, biblical peace come about? What should we be praying for, beyond the dissipation of inter-country hostilities?
Foley says to answer these questions, we need to listen to North Korean Christians themselves.
“When North Korean Christians say, ‘This is not what we have been praying for,’ what they mean is not that they are against peace. Far from it. They know that peace can only come about from transformation of the human heart, and nothing about the transformation of the human heart is rooted in this current conversation.”
It is still going to take time to see what comes of these latest peace talks between the North and South Korean leadership. However, if we don’t want history to simply repeat itself, continued peace talks must include a serious focus on North Korea’s violation of human rights and religious freedom.
“We need to hold North Korea responsible to say, ‘When we come to the summit table, the key issue we’re going to be raising isn’t just nuclear weapons. It’s human rights. It’s about how you are treating your people, especially the 100,000 Christians who have to live underground in North Korea.’”
Finally, we need to ask ourselves what we are truly praying for in North Korea. Is it the external posture of peace that makes us feel secure from afar? Or is it true peace for North Korean people and believers that comes from changed hearts in North Korea’s leadership?
“I think as Christians what we’ve got to do, the most basic thing we can do in carrying out Hebrews 13:3 is this: we need to remember there are North Korean Christians today in North Korea — 30,000 of whom are in concentration camps, 70,000 of whom are underground believers who are trying to stay out of those camps. They are the ones we need to listen to.”
Foley says, “What we need to be praying for is what North Korean Christians have taught us to pray for now for several generations. Pray for the transformation of the heart of the leader.”
(Header photo courtesy of Beyond Neon via Flickr under Creative Commons License: https://goo.gl/nE6Js2)