North Korea is gradually becoming more accessible to foreign influence and Christian groups in South Korea are using the opportunity to smuggle in Bibles and aid a network of underground Christians in the north.
The Washington Post (April 10) reports that the food shortage in North Korea is leading Christian groups in the south to send in supplies and seek a variety of ways to penetrate the communist and isolated country. Estimates vary on the number of Christians in the country. There are official Protestant and Catholic churches in the north that mix Christianity with the veneration of Kim Il Sung, the nation’s founder, but most Christians — anywhere from 10,000 to 300,000 in a nation of 22 million — function secretly. Human rights reports continue to find many cases of repression and imprisonment against believers.
South Korean Christians groups have set up secret way stations in China to minister to North Koreans trying to escape their homeland. But South Koreans also seek influence with the official churches. They are cooperating in church building projects with the north, realizing that they may be helping the government’s propaganda effort, but also hoping for gradual change.
Since North Koreans realize that most of the aid from the south is coming from churches, they have taken such steps as opening a seminary, though mainly to get more helpers to deal with the aid projects, according to Methodist leader Eun Hi Gon.