Underground University School

Underground University School

Underground University School

Underground University School

UU 학교

Underground University isn’t just a school that teaches North Korean defectors how to do North Korean ministry—it’s a school through which North Koreans actually do North Korean ministry. Rather than waiting for Reunification, UU students take steps toward reunification by ministering to their own people—North Koreans who have defected, been sex trafficked, or who have been sent out to work in order to make money for the NK regime in countries around the world. For the protection of our students, we can’t give out a lot of the details of their underground mission work, but the following story from a recent trip will help explain why their work is so unique and essential.

Underground University 2018 Ministry Update - II

Given that North Korea cultivates one of the most hostile atmospheres toward Christianity, members of the North Korean underground church must move cautiously and creatively. They’ve had to find ways to tithe without churches and to pray without closing their eyes (since their own children are taught to report them if they “bow their head and close their eyes”). They’ve even found ways to share the scripture without having any Bible in their possession.

The North Korean underground church is so cautious that, until overwhelming evidence given by North Korean defectors proved otherwise, even their brothers and sisters around the world might have doubted their existence.

How can we possibly help a group of people who are so cleverly concealed underground? By listening to what they have already told us through whispers—both now and in times past.

North Korea’s relationship with Christianity has never been anything less than passionate—then, passionate embrace; now, passionate persecution. During the late 1800s, North Korea was by far more receptive to the Bible than South Korea. It was even home to the Great Pyongyang revival of 1907-1910, a revival whose numbers (according to missionary, John McCune) “far surpassed what we have read about the great revival in Wales and India.” Curiously, however, the early Korean church was not carried on the backs of Western missionaries or Korean pastors, but borne by a group of women called the puin kwonsŏ/chŏndo puin or “Bible women.”

Bible women were usually middle aged Korean women from poor or working-class families. After undergoing training, these women would go out into their world and spread the gospel. What was amazing about the Bible women was that their social status (or, rather, lack thereof) played to their advantage—as women, they could access areas that only other women had access too; as older women, Korean culture dictated that younger women (and even some younger men) were obliged to listen to them. It is no exaggeration to say that the efforts of these women played a fundamental role in the building of the Korean church.

Despite the importance of their work, however, the Bible women were often looked down upon by other church members because of their gender and social status. They received no reward for their hard work in the kingdom of God, save for the “still soft whisper”: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” 

As we look toward the future of North Korea, we are seeing God, through UU, raise up a new generation of these Bible women.

UU 미션트립

Just like the Bible women, our UU students are generally older women who live alone. Many have lost husbands and children. All experienced deep trauma in North Korea, but have few friends to talk them through the pain. A lot of the time, this is due to discrimination: South Koreans often believe that North Korean defectors are lazy, irrational, and greedy. Although South Koreans are often kind to North Koreans, they tend to keep themselves at a distance. Much like the Bible women, then, God is the only person whom these students can rely on.

Also, like these Bible women, these students have a very unique group of people to whom only they can effectively evangelize: North Koreans. Because students have experienced suffering and loss in a way only other North Koreans have, they are able to reach out to their brothers and sisters on a much deeper level.

What a witness these students are to other North Koreans! Despite having every reason to “take it easy” and “enjoy the remainder of their twilight years in South Korea,” these women choose to follow the harder—a narrower—path that leads them on a winding trek through places like Russia and China, where it is fairly easy for them to be re-captured by the North Korean government and thrown into a prison camp to die.

This quarter, for example, students traveled to Russia, where they encouraged and uplifted their brothers and sisters in Christ. One defector was moved to the core when our students visited him. Six months before the visit, he had almost died and, although he was in the process of healing, half of his body was still unable to move. Several Russian missionaries had gone out of their way to care for him during this time, but this defector was particularly enlivened by the presence of our students.

“After 7 years, I have been able to speak my mother tongue again!” He exclaimed (up until then, he had been speaking Russian). He then followed the students around asking questions about their hometowns and their reasons for coming. The students prepared Korean food for him and did their best to share Christ’s love with him. When the defector exclaimed, “I will kill Kim Jong-un”, our students surprised him with a gentle rebuke.

“Christians should not let such curses touch our lips,” one student said. “The Bible teaches us that we should even love our enemies.”

Students also travelled to China where they met sex-trafficked North Korean women. Due to poverty, these women had either sold themselves or been sold by their government to willing buyers in China. Despite their inability to speak Chinese and the regular abuse faced at the hands of these husbands (who see them as property rather than human beings), these women continue to live in China—often because of a child or a fear of being caught and returned to North Korea.

When students brought them medicine, living necessities, and Bibles, the North Korean women were touched. However, what made the biggest impact on these women is was the fact that their older sisters would, in and through Christ, come to visit them. Students helped to teach and encourage their younger sisters in the faith. Often, students who travel to China also help them participate in activities which, through Christ, bolster the relationship between the sex-trafficked North Korean wife and her Chinese husband. Through these activities, the Chinese husband learns to properly love and value his wife, while she learns how to establish and uphold healthy relationship patterns.

Furthermore, students realize that this ministry to the women living in China does not end with UU. Recently one of our UU graduates, Miss K from our Q2 report, returned to China as a missionary. As mentioned in the previous report, she had managed to form several relationships with North Koreans—both inside of and outside of North Korea—and was working inside of a very dangerous area in China. She has since resumed her work inside this area.

While VOMK is currently supporting her work, we did not advise her to return. Rather, when she came to us and said that she felt God calling her back to China, we advised her to wait. We allowed her to work with us in the meantime on work that was much less dangerous. However, as time went on, she continued to come back to us with this request: “I feel like God is calling me to return to China, can you support me in doing this?”

It was only after this graduate has come to us three times that we realized she was serious about this decision. We are now funding her efforts inside of China.

Like the Bible women who came before them, these students are not only supporting their church—the underground church of North Korea—but are helping to build it from the ground up. Despite the well-meant urging of others to “take it easy”, students continue to do the difficult work of constructing and sustaining the very church that the Bible women worked on before them.

Underground University 2018 Ministry Update - I

Going on a mission trip is especially dangerous for our UU students. Anywhere where North Koreans can be found, North Korean spies can be found as well. It is not rare for North Koreans (even North Koreans with South Korean citizenship) to be kidnapped in foreign countries and sent back to a North Korean prison camp.

Despite the danger, our students are aware of the importance of ministering to their own people.

“When I was a defector, I was afraid because I did not know God,” one student said. “But the North Koreans I meet during my mission trip have very bright faces because they have learned about him.”

One VOMK staff member observes that the thing that helps North Koreans isn’t just learning about God. The thing that helps North Koreans is learning about Christ from another North Korean!

“No witness is more effective to a North Korean than the testimony of a fellow North Korean,” this staff member says.

This staff member has accompanied our UU students on several mission trips and can say without hesitation that North Koreans are always much more interested in the UU students than them!

“During one mission trip, the North Koreans were alone with the UU students and asked them several questions about Christianity,” the staff member remembers. “They asked the students, ‘Are the South Koreans telling the truth? Does God really exist?’”

Another staff member recalls a mission trip they went on with our students.

“I spent a lot of time researching and writing my lesson, but it did not impact our North Korean contacts as much as our student’s words impacted the North Korean contacts,” they say. “Every time the students opened their mouths, everyone was crying!”

Only a North Korean can understand the suffering and spiritual struggles of another North Korean. This is what makes our UU students effective witnesses for Christ among their own people. But what do our students think about the mission trips?

“When I saw the North Koreans we were ministering to on the mission trip, I remembered my own experience,” one student comments. “Even though I did not know God at the time, God called me back to minister to people who were just like me.”

This defector adds, “This trip has increased my resolution to return to my homeland after the unification of both Koreas and live as a witness of God in memory of the Korean martyrs who came before me.”

This defector adds, “This trip has increased my resolution to return to my homeland after the unification of both Koreas and live as a witness of God in memory of the Korean martyrs who came before me.”

Another defector says, “I answered many of the North Koreans’ questions and was reminded of my own past because I used to be full of doubts and questions about the Christian faith. They may take a while to become Christian and they may struggle to understand the Bible, but I was confident that God chose them.”

Even before reunification, God is using these men and women to minister to their own people. As one student says, “I want to follow what Peter and other Christians did for the gospel because I have been chosen and called by God to be a strong missionary.”

VOMK is not just a ministry to North Korean people. It is also a ministry done by North Koreans.

About Underground University School

1. We train and deploy students for ministry to North Korea today.

We do “works of mercy field trips” each month where we practice sharing our bread, opening our homes, healing and comforting, visiting and remembering, and other disciplines with North Korean defectors and South Korean outcasts. Students are required to minister to NKs internationally before they graduate. That puts them in a very small category of experienced NK ministers!

2. There is an emphasis on hearing and doing the word.

This is not only a field ministry training program. There are homework assignments and quizzes for every class session. Students memorize large amounts of scripture weekly, in keeping with the tradition of the North Korean underground church. Each of our tracks, like Persecution Theology (using In The Shadow Of The Cross), is serious study. We hold ourselves and our students to a seminary standard in theology while offering and requiring more practical theological participation than many South Korean seminaries.

3. Rooted in mentoring.

1 Timothy 3:1-5 shows that the key to effective missionary service is learning to be an effective minister in one’s own family. That can only be learned life-on-life, and that has made UU a one day classroom experience supplemented by a six day supervised life experience—one that continues well beyond their graduation.

Alumni mentor existing students by acting as examples, coaches, and understanding elder brothers and sisters. This is proving to be a crucial missing piece in both enabling more thorough instruction and also creating greater connection with our alumni.

Join Voice of the Martyrs Korea Today!


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