Voice of the Martyrs Korea today rejected calls for increased government aid for North Korean defectors and instead issued a challenge to churches and North Korean defector Christians themselves to substantially increase their home visitation of North Korean defectors.
The challenge comes in the wake of the death due to starvation of a North Korean woman identified as Ms. Han and her 6-year old son earlier this month. The death has led many North Korean defector advocates to call for increased welfare programs and payments for defectors.
VOMK staff and students also visit sick North Korean defectors in the hospital to pray over them.
But Voice of the Martyrs representative Hyun Sook Foley says that the key to preventing future deaths is not more government aid but a massive increase in home visitations by South Korean Christians and North Korean defector Christians.
“The Ministry of Unification says it plans to address ‘blind spots’ in its aid programs, but the biggest blind spot we have is believing the government can what only the church can do,” said Representative Foley. “Only the church can bring the presence of Christ into a North Korean defector’s home. And only the presence of Christ in a North Korean defector’s home can remedy the epidemic levels of suicide, loneliness, and now even starvation that we are seeing.”
Foley’s ministry, Voice of the Martyrs Korea, has two full-time staff people whose primary responsibility is visiting North Korean defectors in their homes, as well as in hospitals and prisons. But Foley emphasizes that North Korean defectors themselves are always the most effective at visiting their fellow defectors.
“That is why we operate two Christian discipleship training schools for North Korean defectors,” Foley says. “Defectors at the school are equipped to do home, hospital, and prison visitations and accompany VOMK staff to do visitations each week. The defectors teach us a lot about how we South Koreans can be more effective in North Korean ministry, if we are humble enough to learn.”
Foley notes that several of VOMK’s North Korean defector students lived in the same area as the woman who starved.
“The students were hit hard by the death and resolved to expand their visitation efforts to make sure that no one living near them would suffer alone,” said Foley.
Foley said to support those expanded efforts, VOMK this week hired a third staff person for the work. The ministry is preparing for a major North Korean defector home visitation initiative over Chuseok, when VOMK’s staff and students will deliver thousands of dumplings to North Korean defectors homes. But Foley notes that the greatest need is for greater church involvement in visitation.
When staff and students visit North Korean defectors, they listen to the defector’s worries and pray over them.
“Because VOMK is not a church, whenever we visit a North Korean defector’s home and find a problem there, we call the defector’s church pastor and explain the dangerous situation to them,” said Foley. “Sadly, nearly 100% of the time the pastor had no idea the problem was there, even if the defector is dealing with a serious illness or depression. And even when we tell them, they are reluctant to visit the defector’s home because they are too busy. They are trained to believe that their role is to make their church services and activities warm and welcoming for North Korean defectors. But the main thing North Korean defectors need is not warm and welcoming church services. They need pastors and church members who can bring the warmth of Christ into their homes, prison cells, and hospital beds.”
Representative Foley believes that the starvation of Ms. Han and her son should shame Korean Christians, not the Ministry of Unification.
“In Matthew 25, Jesus tells those on his left to depart from him because they did not visit him in his need,” she says. “The work of the church is visitation. When we visit we are to bring something to eat. Christ gives that responsibility to us, not to the government. If we Christians had done our job, Ms. Han would not have starved. If we are faithful to do the work Christ has assigned to us, such a thing will never happen again to North Korean defectors in our country.”
Representative Foley says VOMK invites Christians interested in volunteering in its North Korean defector ministry to call 02-2065-0703 or visit https://vomkorea.com/get-involved/.
Underground University students visit North Korean defectors in their homes. They share food and scripture together.