Each time a new customer walked through the door of the small coffee shop in Seoul where Mr. Kim (name withheld for security reasons) shared his story with workers from Voice of the Martyrs Korea, he hesitated or stopped talking completely. The middle-aged North Korean defector studied each person’s face anxiously, searching for clues to his or her intent.
“Mr. Kim knew from experience that he had to be extremely careful when sharing his story,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, whose organization partners with underground North Korean Christians to share the gospel. “North Korean spies often find and follow defectors in South Korea and report their names to the North Korean government, which then punishes their relatives still living in the north.”
“In North Korea, no one trusts each other,” Mr. Kim told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. He said he initially even suspected his wife of being a spy. “We have to be very cautious about how we think and always careful with our words. I still have that kind of tendency. I get a little nervous, looking back and forth.”
With the coffee grinder providing background noise, Mr. Kim gradually grew more comfortable sharing with Voice of the Martyrs Korea the story of how he became a Bible smuggler in the most restricted nation on earth.
“Mr. Kim became a believer during a lengthy business trip to China in 2004,” says Representative Foley. “While he was there, he visited a friend’s church and came to love the Bible and what he called its ‘weird’ stories.”
Five months later, after being baptized, receiving his own small Bible and growing in his understanding of the faith, Mr. Kim had to return to North Korea. But as he prepared to leave China, someone from the church made a bold request: Would he accept a shipment that included 10 hidden Bibles once he returned to North Korea?
“At first he declined,” says Representative Foley. “He was already nervous about bringing his own small Bible into the country. He knew that if border guards caught him with even a few pages, he could be tortured or killed. And he knew that receiving a shipment of Bibles could result in his imprisonment in one of North Korea’s notorious concentration camps.”
As he agonized over the decision, Mr. Kim remembered that he had given his life to Christ and it was no longer his own. He decided to trust the Lord and accept the shipment.
“Now I believe in God, and in God everything is possible,” he thought at the time. “I can do anything he wants. Even if it looks difficult, maybe God will just do his work.”
The shipment arrived a few months after Mr. Kim’s return to North Korea. At 1 a.m. on a morning in November 2005, he approached a boat along the bank of the Yalu River, praying for God’s protection and guidance with every step.
After retrieving three large vinyl duffle bags, he hoisted them onto his back and ran toward his home in the dark. Once inside the relative safety of his home, he opened the bags to find them tightly packed with pants. But wrapped inside the clothing were 10 small Bibles.
“I was afraid and nervous,” he told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “Receiving them was fine, but when I actually opened the bags I began to wonder, ‘How can I distribute these at this time?’ I began to have doubts.” Mr. Kim decided to keep the dangerous books hidden until God led him to the right people.
Then, as Mr. Kim walked through his village one day in February 2006, he heard a man whistling a Christian hymn. “Mr. Kim had learned the tune, ‘The Trusting Heart to Jesus Clings’, during his time in China,” said Representative Foley. “He made note of where the man lived and decided to deliver some Bibles to him that night.”
Mr. Kim, a North Korean now living in Seoul, participated in Bible smuggling to North Korea before defecting.
After midnight, Mr. Kim rewrapped eight of the 10 Bibles in the pants and left them at the man’s front door. “He didn’t leave a note for fear that it could be traced back to him,” said Representative Foley.
Months later Mr. Kim returned to China with the intent to defect to South Korea, but in November 2006 he was arrested and sent back to North Korea.
“In prison, he met a friend who had been arrested because of his Christian faith,” said Representative Foley. “As they talked, Mr. Kim came to realize that the man he gave the Bibles to was that friend’s uncle.” That man also had been arrested and was being held in a different cell in the same prison.
Mr. Kim’s friend told him that his uncle had given the eight Bibles to relatives, who had then committed their lives to Christ. “The entire family of 27 people gathered secretly at night to worship God and to read and discuss the Scriptures,” says Representative Foley. “But one night a neighbor overheard the believers singing hymns and reported them to authorities. State security agents raided their home and arrested everyone.”
Mr. Kim told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that although he wasn’t able to interact with them in prison, he often heard some of the family members praying in their cells. “He never told his friend that he was the one who had left the eight Bibles on his uncle’s doorstep,” said Representative Foley. “It was still too risky for anyone to know.”
A month later, all 27 family members, including Mr. Kim’s friend and his friend’s uncle, were sent to a prison camp for punishment.
“Mr. Kim was released after seven months in prison, and in 2014 he successfully defected to South Korea,” says Representative Foley.
She says Mr. Kim remains concerned about the Christian family. “He still feels guilty,” says Representative Foley. “After all, he supplied the Bibles that helped lead to their imprisonment. Still, he knows that it was God who provided the Bibles, and he knows that God is with them as they suffer for his name.”
“I believe that these 27 people are children of God, and that God will somehow release them miraculously,” Mr. Kim told Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
Today Mr. Kim serves in a variety of ways at his church and participates in a one-on-one discipleship program. He continues to pray that more North Koreans will learn of God’s love.
“I just want North Korean people to hear the gospel and share the gospel,” he told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “That is my only prayer.”
At the conclusion of his conversation with Voice of the Martyrs Korea workers in the coffee shop, Mr. Kim pulled out the hand-sized Bible he received in China when he first came to know Christ. The outside looks like a notebook, but its pages contain God’s Word in a tiny font. “He had hidden the Bible from everyone, including his wife, and it had sustained him when he was a lonely Christian fearful of his work as a Bible smuggler,” says Representative Foley. “Like the family of 27 believers imprisoned for their faith and countless others secretly following Jesus inside North Korea, Mr. Kim continues to depend on God’s Word, too.”
Individuals interested in learning more about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s North Korean ministry can visit https://vomkorea.com/en/northkorea/ or contact the ministry at 02-2065-0703 for more information.