South Korea (MNN) – After a decade of political corruption that ended in the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, South Korea has a new leader.
Moon Jae-in, a member of the center-left Democratic Party, was elected on May 9th. His tenure begins at an uncertain time, as North Korea, which recently launched its most sophisticated missile yet, is becoming bolder militarily.
“It’s definitely going to be a bit of a cultural change after 10 years of one party rule,” says Emily Fuentes, Communications Director with Open Doors USA. “With relations heightened too, with U.S. relations and even South Korean relations with North Korea, it’s a time when the countries that are closest to them have to be especially on guard and mindful of what North Korea is doing.”
Fuentes says it will be especially interesting to see how this transition affects the Gospel’s influence in the region. According to Pew Research, only one percent of South Korea’s population was Christian in the 1900s. In 2010, that number jumped to about 30 percent. South Korea is also home to the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul.
“It will be interesting to see how this new leader communicates with Kim Jong-un, and what that relationship is like,” Fuentes says. “I think one of the constants we’ve seen, no matter the political party, is that the Church continues to grow in South Korea, and they’re one of the largest missionary-sending countries in the world today.”
While believers in South Korea enjoy few restrictions on religious freedom, North Korea is a much different story. It sits at number one on Open Doors’ World Watch List for nations with the highest persecution of Christians. Believers are under constant surveillance and can be arrested, imprisoned, tortured or even killed for their faith.
“For South Korea, it’s their opportunity to welcome North Koreans with open arms,” Fuentes says. “For North Korea, it will be interesting to see how they react to a country that continues to grow and the Gospel continues to become ‘more Western’, which is something that they hate, and to see what they instigate under this new president.”
Open Doors has a base in South Korea where it conducts fundraising and provides prayer support for believers, helping them to best know how to pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters. Through local partners, Open Doors also provides relief aid, Bibles and discipleship materials to North Korean believers. Fuentes asks you to pray that the Gospel would continue to spread in South Korea, and that eventually a similar openness would be found in the North.
“I think prayer is the most powerful tool we have in North Korea,” Fuentes says. “It’s such a closed country. In the 1900s before the countries were divided, and before missionaries got there, it was known as the Hermit Kingdom, because it would not accept anyone.
“Now, with the Korean War and other things that have happened, the Gospel has just taken off in South Korea. And in the underground Church in North Korea, the Gospel is spreading. Prayers that that would continue are absolutely vital.”