Knowledge of the outside world opened the door to despair. Knowledge of God opened the door to hope.
That is the conclusion Dr. Hyun Sook Foley draws regarding the current situation of North Koreans working abroad, based on letters released this week by her organization Voice of the Martyrs Korea, an NGO which serves persecuted Christians worldwide. The letters, dated the end of December, were written by North Korean workers in response to care packages provided by the NGO through its local workers. According to Representative Foley, the care packages contained medicine, hygiene items, and an audio Bible.
“The five letters show that workers have virtually no practical choices available to them to protect their health and their lives,” says Representative Foley. “One North Korean worker wrote that they are ‘less free than animals’ while another described themself as a ‘slave dying helplessly’.”
Audio Bibles being delivered to a North Korean foreign labor factory. (Photo altered for security reasons.)
Representative Foley says that the letters appear to indicate that COVID infections may be widespread among groups of North Korean workers abroad. “The North Korean workers wrote that they are afraid that if they stay where they are, they will get infected and die from a lack of medical treatment. But they are afraid that if they escape, they will never again be able to see their family and friends inside North Korea. One worker wrote, ‘Whatever it takes they’re trying to go back to Joseon’.”
But according to Representative Foley, the complete lack of human options is resulting in their being unusually open to God.
“They’re turning to God and relying on him daily even more deeply than South Korean Christians do,” she says.
One North Korean worker wrote, “We may find God more than others because the situation is very painful and difficult.” The worker added, “What is clear is that if we did not know God in the first place, we would have given up everything and lived a life without hope.”
“Karl Marx and all the communists who followed, right up to the present day, have always dismissed religion as ‘the opium of the people’, causing them to lose their focus on the so-called revolutionary struggle,” says Representative Foley. “But when North Koreans are sent abroad to work and they see the outside world with their own eyes, they realize that it is the North Korean ideology that is the opium. It has dulled their mind to the truth—not only truths about economics, politics, and culture that their government has concealed from them, but also truths about God, who they quickly realize is their only hope.”
Representative Foley quotes one North Korean worker who wrote, “If I didn’t know the world, it would have been easier to endure, but now it’s hard to endure. All the hardships that lay upon us would leave nothing but anger and hatred.” But the same worker added, “I talk about the Bible with my comrade every day. We’ve developed a relationship where we depend on each other for our lives. Even when we go back to Joseon, we have a plan to let our parents and brothers know the God we know.”
“When they hear the word of God, North Korean workers realize that the answers they are seeking can’t be found by fleeing, whether to South Korea or back to North Korea,” says Representative Foley. “The answers can only be found by seeking God today exactly where they are.” She quotes one worker who wrote, “Me and my three comrades fall in love with the Holy Spirit every day. Because it is our daily bread. God is with us every day like we breath and eat every day.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea supplies audio and printed North Korean dialect Bibles to North Koreans inside North Korea, as well as to North Korean laborers working abroad and North Korean sex trafficked women in China. The Bibles are individually distributed directly to recipients, often as part of small care packages containing other items like masks, medicines, and hygiene items. She says that the distribution is done by underground Christians from North Korea and the other countries where Voice of the Martyrs Korea reaches North Koreans.
The year-end letters from North Korean workers released this week by Voice of the Martyrs Korea are shown here, with slight alterations in appearance to ensure the safety of the writers.
Hello. I didn’t know at first, but now I know that we are less free than animals that can’t go out or walk around. If I didn’t know the world, it would have been easier to endure, but now it’s hard to endure. All the hardships that lay upon us would leave nothing but anger and hatred. However, I talk about the Bible with my comrade every day. We’ve developed a relationship where we depend on each other for our lives. Even when we go back to Joseon, we have a plan to let our parents and brothers know the God we know. Recently, I learned about Christmas in detail, which I had never heard of it in Joseon, and I also learned anew that it was the day Jesus was born. I was very shocked that it was a universal holiday that only Joseon people don’t know. Wherever we go, we are with God, so we are never afraid. We believe that God will be with us also in the new year.
Hello. It’s been a while sending greetings. It’s been [X] years since I couldn’t go to my hometown in Joseon due to COVID-19. I was exhausted and tired. Perhaps if I hadn’t known God, I would have been just a slave dying helplessly. Many people were killed in groups in the ‘Arduous March’, but even that would not have been as painful than now. I relied on God and prayed, so I could have hope without collapsing. I encounter God’s love through the medicine and food you sent me. They say that the doors of Joseon will open next year. All the people infected with COVID-19 are dead, so whatever it takes they’re trying to go back to Joseon. I feel very bad that they can’t go to heaven because they don’t know God. I believe that God will protect us and be with us in the New Year. Thank you.
Hello, how have you been? Me and my three comrades fall in love with the Holy Spirit every day. Because it is our daily bread. God is with us every day like we breath and eat every day. In fact, we may find God more than others because the situation is very painful and difficult, but what is clear is that if we did not know God in the first place, we would have given up everything and lived a life without hope. 2022 is already at the end. I believe that God will give us new hope next year, and I will pray for it. Comrade [X] who was sick, survived after taking the medicine the boss brought her. We think it’s all done by the hands of God.
Hello. When I believed in Jesus, I had a wish to go to a church where South Koreans and Chinese people attend. For now, I think I’ll have to run away to make that wish come true. It’s hard to imagine going somewhere leaving my parents and younger brother (sister) in Joseon. That’s why I feel very complicated these days. Will God show me the path if I pray to Him? I just thank God for letting me forget all the pain I am going through now. I want to evangelize my comrades who don’t know God. I want to thank all teachers who didn’t forget us and helped us every time and wish you a happy new year.
More than half of our factory’s employees are infected with COVID-19. We don’t know who will die when and how. There’s nothing I can do but pray. Please pray for us. Thank you for sending us medicine and household items. I wish you a happy new year. Respect!
Representative Foley says that for the safety of its workers and the Bible recipients, Voice of the Martyrs Korea no longer releases the specific quantity of Bibles distributed each year. “Generally, we distribute 40,000 to 50,000 North Korean dialect Bibles a year in print and electronic formats to North Korean citizens outside of South Korea, though distribution has increased significantly during the pandemic as North Koreans seek the kind of hope and stability that are only found in Christ,” she says. She notes that the Bible is also read daily on Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s five shortwave radio broadcasts.
Individuals or churches interested in supporting Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s North Korea ministry can make a donation via website or wire transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “NK Ministry” with the donation.