As international denuclearisation discussions continue in the Korean peninsula, an unexpected casualty is Bible and Gospel missionary work.
Anxious to avoid jeopardising the peace talks, South Korea has clamped down on the long-standing practice of Christian ministries sending Bibles and Scriptural materials on USB drives across the border by balloon launches into North Korea.
Just before the historic summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, this twelve-year-long missional effort was banned by the South Korean government in an attempt not to upset their northern neighbour.
"What we're facing now is a complete blockade for balloon launches and the [government’s] justification for it … is that it 'fouls the air for peace'", a South Korean Christian missionary explained. "For many years in our work the government has said 'not now, wait, don't do anything to bother North Korea.' And now, unfortunately, the international community is kind of supporting that rationale,” he added.
Christian defector Jung Kwang-il, founder of a group called No Chain, revealed in September 2017 that GPS tracking confirmed that thousands of Bible-filled flash drives, donated by US students, were successfully dropped into North Korean territory.
Other international missionary work into North Korea may also be under threat from the diplomatic clampdown. Koreans living in China have been carrying out missionary activity for the last 20 years, ministering to North Koreans who obtain visas to visit family in China, as well those who have escaped across the border. The mission team teaches new Christians the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed as well as Bible verses, and sends them back into North Korea to share the Gospel – at risk of imprisonment.
North Korea is routinely ranked as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. Believers have been known to have been executed simply for owning a Bible and many have to keep their faith completely secret. Those who do gather to pray risk death or life-long-imprisonment, often in the harsh conditions of a political labour camp.