Eugene Cho

Pray for the people of North Korea. Lord, may your light shine forth.

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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.

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11 Responses

  1. Dylan says:

    The US and possibly other countries had to give up concessions for the two Americans that were released, including Bae. Both Bae and the other American were arguably foolish in even going to North Korea, much less participating in activities that they knew would lead to their incarceration. North Korea is run by an evil dictatorship and regime no doubt but foolishness is foolishness.

    • David Knapp says:

      But as followers of Jesus what He commands trumps the US and any other country.

      Jesus looked like a fool when He lost His life on the cross. Why would His followers be called to anything less?

      • Sam says:

        This is something that I’ve struggled with. As a Christian, I understand Jesus’ call to go and make disciples of all nations and his command to seek to do away with injustice, break chains, and fight for the oppressed. But at the same time, we are also to use discernment and wisdom, are we not? Paul ignored the pleas of his contemporaries and went on Jerusalem anyway. He went knowing full well the consequences of his actions and accepted them. Yet, it seems hypocritical to enter N. Korea for the purpose of spreading the gospel, be captured, and then ask the US to help get you out. What will Mr. Bae do now? Is he called to witness to N. Korea or not? Will he go back? If God were to send missionaries to N. Korea, wouldn’t they go knowing full well the cost and rejoice in being worthy to suffer for Christ’s name? I hope you understand why many Americans are displeased with individuals who choose to go to a country like N. Korea and then ask for help getting out, wasting taxpayer dollars. Yes, we pray for N. Korea. Yes, we go where God sends us. And yes, even support missionaries who choose to go there. But for any missionary, I sit down and ask them: are you aware of the cost? Are you willing to lay down your life for the gospel? Do you count your life of any value compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ? If there is no question, then go, and be counted as among the righteous when you receive your reward in heaven. But if not, then perhaps we need to reevaluate where our hope lies and whether or not this is the wisest thing to do.

      • Dylan says:

        Nah, Jesus to Bae is comparing apples to donkeys.

  2. Joseph Kim says:

    Praying for this family and rejoicing with them. Thanks so much Eugene for sharing and praying for this family. – Joe K

  3. thank you for this post and for reminding your readers about the plight of Christians internationally that face persecution. praise God for his return, praying for him and his family.

  4. Dave & Claire Robins says:

    Welcome Home Kenneth! All things are possible through God. We are overjoyed for all of his family. In Jesus name!

  5. JS Park says:

    Reblogged this on J.S. Park and commented:
    As a fellow Korean-American, this is absolutely fantastic news. Prayers are still needed for the nation of North Korea.

  6. kathy b says:

    I’m just an average Christian white woman in New York City, have been praying faithfully for you Mr. Bae, now praising the Lord for His rescue of you. Continued prayers for you, your family, and all people in North Korea.

  7. Hank Song says:

    Finally some common sense thoughts from a Korean-American pastor regarding North Korea – going into North Korea is not doing missions – people, especially Christians, need to stop supporting the regime by going to North Korea. Praise God for Bae and the other Americans being released, but there are more concrete ways of helping North Koreans by working with the defectors and working to send information into North Korea.

  8. […] Bae in NK. After he came home, we prayed.” Cho, whose parents were born in North Korea, also reflected on praying for the country and its […]

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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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