Eugene Cho

someday, i will return to north korea

My great grandfather was one of the first christians in a village nearby Pyongyang.  God’s grace was poured over his entire family but they experienced intense persecution because of their faith.  As a result of the persecution, his family “escaped” with his entire family from what it now known to the world as North Korea.  My father was five during this time and the stories he shares don’t seem real.  Not everyone in his family survived that journey southward that one chaotic night.

NK as some may know is one of the most isolated nations and subsequently, some of the gravest human rights violations and suffering go unnoticed – including approximately 200,000 Christians that are in prison labor camps simply because of their faith in Christ. This past weekend, Minhee and I had the privilege of spending some time with friends that left Seattle three years ago to go to Yanbian, China [via Singapore].  They left – with their three children – the comforts of home, family, and friends to act upon their convictions. The father recently relinquished his well paying job with full benefits to serve the people of North Korea – initially at the border of NK and China and in a few months, he’ll be [hoping to] receive his “resident card” that would allow him to enter to and from North Korea to do development work.  There are no salary or benefits to his work as a “tentmaker.” 

Who in their right mind wants to become a “resident” of North Korea?

It was humbling and inspiring. 

When people ask us why we feel so compelled about starting and building the new global poverty organization, it’s because of these people and thousands more that are on the ground fighting poverty: serving people, enabling education, feeding people, building community development projects, digging water wells, distributing medicine, writing letters to governments, giving hope by restoring human dignity – and so many who do these and so much more – many who do so in the love of Christ.

Some day, I will return to North Korea.  Some day, I will return to the birthplace of my ancestors; the birthplace of my father and mother.  We still have family in North Korea…that is, if they are still alive.  We do not know.  Some day, I will return with my wife and children to not only proclaim and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ but the good news of human dignity that must be afforded to all people.  13 years ago, I climbed Mt. Baekdusan at the border of China and North Korea and prayed for an opportunity some day to return home.  I echo that prayer again. 

Some day, I will return to Korea.

But till then, I hope to be an advocate and activist for many around the world that have no voice.  Did you know that, “Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific?” 

Before I submit another entry in the coming days about some of my views about international policies with North Korea, I want to humbly direct you to an organization called Liberty in North Korean [LiNK] and their narrative of the situation in NK.  Would you take 3 minutes to read about the story and suffering of my people?

And then take a minute to pray? Please.

[this post was written for Sojourners God’s Politics]

Filed under: family, religion,

17 Responses

  1. Tyler says:

    As someone relatively ignorant on what North Korea is like…this doesn’t sound much different than what Hitler did in WWII. Yet…I don’t see the USA doing much to change that. Isn’t that wrong?

  2. beattieblog says:

    Powerful post, Eugene. It’s amazing how isolated NK remains. It’s difficult to imagine the reality of such injustice. Hope the sabbatical is going well.

  3. Christ says:

    North Korean border reportedly is now largely open to shipments of arms, North Korea’s main source of hard currency. Christ

  4. elderj says:

    The DPRK has been much in my thoughts and prayers, if intermittently, for several months. I pray for the time when in north korea, every one will sit under his own vine and fig tree and no one will make him afraid.

  5. Jenny says:

    Thank you for this post, Eugene. It is disturbing to read, yet contains such powerful information that does not get enough attention in our country, or around the world. Praise God for your friends who are willing to go. May He bless their efforts, and yours.

  6. jewelsintheashes says:

    Thanks for posting this as heartbreaking as it is. I didn’t know it was that bad there. Gives a glimpse into the dark situation, and where you got your compassion for those in places of oppression.

  7. Paul L. says:

    Eugene,
    Thanks for this powerful post and doing your part to open our eyes and hearts to the atrocities that are going on in North Korea?

    I’m curious to hear of your thoughts of the new South Korea’s president’s hard stance on North Korea?

  8. Jan Owen says:

    heartbreaking…….and hard for us to imagine.

  9. Michelle says:

    Wow, awesome post. Thank you for sharing all this information. It is a great reminder to pray for North Korea and the Christians who live there.

  10. a sister in Christ says:

    I cried my eyes out when I saw these children.
    How much more God’s tears will flow for NK.

  11. DK says:

    Eugene, thanks for this reminder. This was one of your most powerful posts. Keep on keeping on.

  12. Daniel Im says:

    Hey, I just stumbled upon your blog and find that we have a lot of things in common. I love your honesty and openness, and just your whole vision for this non-profit.

    In terms of this post, my father was merely a baby (only a few months old), when he was strapped on his aunt’s back, while the whole family marched down out of Seoul. In fact, my grandfather is the only one from his family who made it to the southern side of the border.

    I wonder…if my relatives in North Korea are still alive.
    I wonder…if they are part of the army, or if they are starving to death.
    I wonder…if they know the truth and beauty of Christ.

  13. […] a previous post, here’s an excerpt explaining my connection with North Korea: My great grandfather was one of […]

  14. […] are from North Korea.  My father and mother was born in North Korea. Some of you have read my burden and heart for North Korea.  Couple years ago, my parents trekked back to this part of the China and North Korea border in […]

  15. […] “tried” and sentenced in Pyongyang very recently.  I also read Pastor Eugene’s blog – he has a big heart for NK particularly because his parents are from […]

  16. ES says:

    In my memory, whenever families gathered, Grandfather prayed for his sister left behind who already married(her husband denied to follow) when the whole family decided to exile to South Korea. One day, I wrote down the sisters names of grandmother who never said anything about her families left in North Korea because she just followed her husband(grand father) and family anyway, So I promised grandmother when two Korea unified in future, I’ll try to find her sisters and let them know my grandmother’s life in South Korea.

    Grandfather(97 years old as of 2010) has a one dream to re-build the church in his birthplace. Church’s name was Young Pyoung Church located in the north area(city name as EuJoo, close to China, it will be 2~3 hours distance from north of Pyoungyang) of the North Korea. With out family, there are few other survived families who from same church in North Korea and most of them exile North Korea just before breaking of Korean War by oppression of North Korean Government. In 1990s, many of them met together to prepare the fund for the future rebuilding of church but there was one common concern about that who will go there and when? No-body said “I will return” or “my sons or daughters will go”. Just somebody will go there…. you know that generation never feels so good to North Korea and can no erase the really horrible memory in them too. So, as it is really shocking to me to see that somebody said “I”ll return to Korea Korea” even you added with “someday”.

    One guy, I do not know whether his family coming from North Korea or not but especially, I’m praying for Robert Park who crossed border last Dec ’09 even most of peoples are not thinking as important thing but to me, he looks like one of the prophet who has been just preached in the Nineveh in old testament. Somebody can say meaningless activities but who knows if he was sent by the God as Martyrdom.

    Sometime, I pray “someday” to come early as Rev 22:20

  17. […] Such is the situation for more people around the world than we want to believe. We know that persecution of Christians began…well…when it began with the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.  Some Christian missions organizations cite that an estimated 100 million Christians face some form of persecution including death and concentrations camps – particularly in North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. I’ve written before of the concentration camps for mostly Christians in North Korea. […]

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One Day’s Wages

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Collaboration.

col·lab·o·ra·tion
kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n/
noun

the action of working with someone or a group of others  to produce or create something.

May we hold our logos, egos, and tribalism have their place. May we hold them loosely for they too shall pass. May we collaborate for the sake of the greater Kingdom of God ... which endures forever. As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

Yes, blessed be the local, indigenous leaders. What an honor and privilege to celebrate with the on-the-ground local @thefreedomstory team to celebrate the recent opening of their Education and Resource Center for the local youth in Chiang Rai, Thailanf. This was made possible through a partnership and matching grant by @onedayswages and The Freedom Story.

While it was an honor to be there to cut the cord and say a few words, this is an example of collaboration. Much love to the Freedom Story team including their co-founders Tawee Donchai and @Rachel Goble, to their staff who live in the community, who understand their context and culture, and who tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love. And of course, much love to the students themselves for they each matter. Finally, to each person that donated to @onedayswages to make this grant possible.

May hundreds and even thousands of youth be impacted, encouraged, and mentored. May they capture a glimpse of God's love for them.

Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for @onedayswages...to listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break your heart. Give us eyes to see others through your eyes. Give us humility so that we acknowledge our own need to learn and grow. (Photo via @thefreedomstory)

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