I’m sitting in front of my computer and I’m crying. And I can’t stop.
There’s a tidal wave of emotions. As a follower of Jesus, I’m ecstatic over Kenneth Bae’s release from jail. Many will know that he was detained in North Korea not because he was trying to topple its government but because of his faith in Christ and his love for the people of North Korea. And while many question the wisdom of going to a country like North Korea, I know that following Christ will sometimes lead us to places that might be irrational to many – even to the Church.
As a pastor, I’m overwhelmed with joy for Terri and Andy Chung, and their two daughters. Terri is Kenneth’s younger sister and their family worships at the church I lead, Quest Church. Having had numerous meetings with Terri’s mother, Myunghee, I can’t imagine how she must be feeling right now. For goodness sake, her love and devotion to her son led her to visit him in North Korea about a year ago. Just last Sunday, our church spent time hearing from Terri and praying for their family. It was emotional as we pondered his two years in captivity. Kenneth was in captivity for a total of 735 days…and tonight, they will be reunited.
And as I genuinely rejoice…
I’m reminded of what remains: a people under a brutal regime. Approximately 24.5 million people.
North Korea will always remain close to my heart. My great-grandfather was among the first to become a follower of Jesus in his village near Pyongyang. My parents were both born in what is now North Korea. My father was 6 when he fled away from the rising communist government. His stories are harrowing.
What my parents witnessed as young children were only the beginning of what has been labeled by many as one of the most oppressive governments in modern history. One can just reference the 2013 report on North Korea from the Human Rights Watch or this interview of “unimaginable suffering.” North Korea also ranks as “the place where Christian persecution is most extreme.” According to the Open Doors, approximately 50,000-70,000 Christians are imprisoned in labor camps. And that may be a very conservative number as some cite there are over 200,000 Christians in labor camps.
But the injustice doesn’t just extend to Christians, it’s pervasive:
Human rights in North Korea are severely restricted. International human rights organizations assess North Korea as a category of its own with no parallel in the contemporary world when it comes to human rights violations. Despite numerous rights being enshrined in the country’s constitution, in practice there is no right to free speech, and the only radio, television, music and news providers that are deemed legal are those operated by the government. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 political prisoners are detained in concentration camps, where they perform forced labour and risk summary beatings, torture and execution.
North Korea’s human rights record has been widely condemned, especially by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the European Union and the United Nations. North Korea is widely believed to have amongst the worst human rights record in the world. The General Assembly of the United Nations has since 2003 annually adopted a resolution condemning the country’s human rights record. The latest resolution of December 19, 2011, passed by a vote of 123–16 with 51 abstentions, urged the government in Pyongyang to end its “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights”, which included public executions and arbitrary detentions. North Korea rejected the resolution, saying it was politically motivated and based upon untrue fabrications. In February 2014, a UN special commission published a detailed, 400-page account based on first-hand testimonies documenting “unspeakable atrocities” committed in the country. [source]
And so, as we rejoice over the amazing news of Kenneth Bae’s release and other Americans (today and recently), let’s not forget the people of North Korea.
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. In 2003, 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.
These are my people but I know that God has not forgotten them.
May we not forget the people of North Korea…
Lord, may your light shine forth in North Korea.
Lord, in your mercy.
Lord, for your glory.