I regularly see ministries putting out ads claiming that the number one request of North Korean Christians is for Bibles, Bibles, and more Bibles. These ministries claim that for every few dollars you send, they’ll send one more Bible into North Korea; the only limit is your generosity. I’ve even seen them claim to distribute Bibles into North Korean concentration camps.
As someone who has worked with underground North Korean Christians for many years, I can tell you that while such ads have tremendous emotional and fundraising appeal, they are not rooted in reality. The amount of time, care, logistics, people, money, and prayer it takes to place even a single Bible inside North Korea is beyond most people’s imagining. It’s never cheap, and it doesn’t happen on a mass-production level. The shortage is never of Bibles available for distribution. Never.
I was reading a private letter from Rev. Wurmbrand to our sister VOM missions from 1982 today. Seems that there is nothing new under the sun. Rev. Wurmbrand wrote:
Huge quantities of Bibles are produced for European Communist countries by other missions… This has produced a catastrophe in a country like Romania. Everybody brought the Bibles basically to the same addresses. Neighbors were alarmed by the great number of vans and trailers coming to one person. These had no possibilities to be distribute such quantities. At the last arrests in Ploieshti tens of thousands of Bibles were confiscated. They were stored since long. I know from my own experience that to distribute 1,000 Bibles in conditions of illegality, with every second member of the underground church suspect as informer, without means of transport was already a big problem.
Rev. Wurmbrand’s point is that we should not think that the only thing stopping us from effectively distributing an unlimited amount of Bibles in closed countries is money. Distribution is mainly limited not by funding shortfalls (donors are always generous with Bible money, praise God) but by a number of factors stemming from the fact these countries are closed and specialize in making Christian work as difficult, dangerous, and deadly as possible. Rev. Wurmbrand noted that there are always fake Christians, spies, and profiteers in these countries, and we must be wise. Bible distribution in closed countries is by definition very difficult, and money for Bibles is usually the least of the difficulties.
So if not Bibles, Bibles, and more Bibles, what should we be smuggling to underground believers? Rev. Wurmbrand offered a specific recommendation in the 1982 letter:
My conviction is also that while a good number of Bibles is needed, they [people in closed countries] need a huge quantity of simple books explaining the Christian faith and books opposing Christianity to Marxism. For those who have not lived under Communism, it is difficult to realise what counter-productive effect a Bible can have, if not accompanied by right teaching, on a soul. I had not read the Bible 14 years. I read it as a new book when I came out of prison. I was appalled when I read books like Joshua, Judges, etc. where God orders the extermination of whole populations with wives and children. I said to myself ”This is worse than what Communists have done. The Communists could use this justification.’ Happily I had some spiritual preparation. For those without it, General Jaruzelski [of Poland] is better than Joshua. The Bible says, ‘How will I understand if there is nobody to explain?’ I am against simply giving 1 million Bibles. even if it would be possible, without giving another million books with explanations. This belongs to the realm of phantasy.
Rev. Wurmbrand was quick to note that this does not diminish the real need for the hard, slow, copy-by-copy distribution of the Bible inside closed countries that we and our VOM sister missions around the world specialize in. But he felt VOM’s unique contribution to the underground church around the world lay in the distribution of that peculiar form of literature which might be called “ideological evangelism”:
We have to print Bibles. We could not have couriers without this, but we should concentrate our printing on special books: Christianity versus Marxism. No other mission has such books. We have the unanimous witnesses of Christians from behind the Iron Curtain, especially from students and intellectuals, that these are the books they value most because these solve the doubts which Marxist indoctrination has sown in their mind. It must not be only my ‘Answer to Moscow’s Bible’ and ‘Marx Satanist’. Several other authors have written good books on this subject.
To say that we should concentrate on printing and distributing anything other than Bibles in China, North Korea, and other closed countries is likely to yield indignant outcries and stern rebukes (and the least amount of funds raised). But Rev. Wurmbrand never worried about the response of the general public, only the need of the underground church. And with more than 1 billion people still living under Communism today, it’s worth noting that while the Chinese government is getting ready to publish its own Chinese Communist Party edition of the Bible, it has yet to publish any of Rev. Wurmbrand’s books on Communism and Christianity. That remains VOM’s unique contribution to the work of the church globally.