Americans are bread and butter Christians, with a thin slice of faith spread across the white bread culture.

They assume their way is the best, and seem to think their “missionaries” are taking the truth to the heathen.

What they don’t seem to realize is that Christianity has deep roots in Asia, and that the reason for many of the converts is that the radical ideas of Christianity are spread from person to person.

So few in the west seem aware that Korean Christianity was spread not by missionaries but by Koreans themselves, mainly by those who traveled and converted in other lands such as Japan and China

This photo is to the Haemi fortress, where 1000 Catholic Christians were killed in the 1870’s.

The usual excuse for such killing was the fear that the Christians would betray their country to a Western power, and there is a small truth in that fear. However, a more probable excuse is that Christianity, by preaching equality in a feudal land with class distinctions undermined the traditional privileged lives of the nobility.

The irony in all of this was that Korea did indeed fall to a foreign power, but that power was Japan. And during the Japanese occupation, the Christians were deeply involved in Korean nationalism.

On 1 March, 1919, an assembly of thirty-three religious and professional leaders passed a Declaration of Independence (March 1st Movement). Although organized by leaders of the Chondogyo (천도교) religion, fifteen of the thirty-three signatories happened to be Christians[22] – many of whom were subsequently imprisoned. 1919 also saw the establishment of the predominantly Catholic Ulmindan (울민단) (“Righteous People’s Army“)[23] – a pro-independence movement, and the establishment of a China-based government-in-exile by Seungman Rhee (이승만), a Methodist.[24] But the real catalyst that linked Christianity with the patriotic cause in the eyes of many Koreans was the refusal by many Christians to participate in the worship of the Japanese Emperor, which was made compulsory in the 1930s.[25][26]

Although this refusal was motivated by theological rather than political convictions, the consequent imprisonment of many Christians strongly identified their faith, in the eyes of many Koreans, with the cause of Korean nationalism and resistance to the Japanese occupation.

One of my friend’s grandfathers was killed by the Japanese for his Christian faith by the Japanese, and such memories were taught to the children and grandchildren.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, Protestant Christianity became prominent because of American schools and by local preachers like Pastor Cho who emulated the house church idea similar to that of the early Christian converts who lacked priests.

But again Christian influence is still strong, with the previous President, who had been jailed for his human rights activity, being a known Catholic, and the present president of Korea being one who privately follows the ethics of the gospels without belonging to a church. Essentially Korea Christianity is not “western” but Asian.

The persecution of Christians in North Korea however is hidden, like most things in that strict Marxist country. Yet now and then we hear that it continues, the news usually leaking via those who flee that country via China. (Background note: there are thousands of North Korean refugees in nearby China; if they are caught, they are deported back. So there is an underground railroad that smuggles some of them via Thailand and via the Philippines to freedom in South Korea).

China is the main trading partner with North Korea since trade with Japan has recently soured due to the kidnapping of Japanese citizens, but this trade with nearby China is allowing “dangerous” influences into the North. Christianity is not the only dangerous idea being smuggled into North Korea: recently the North Korean government has started cracking down on Korean music CD’s and Kareoke bars.
The persecution of Christians (or for that matter, Buddhists) who live in North Korea has been assumed but not well documented. What might be breaking open the story of the silent persecution is that international Christian groups are protesting the announced planned execution of Pastor Son Jong Nam for the “crime” of spreading Christianity.

Son Jong Nam, a former officer in the North Korean army, was first imprisoned in North Korea in 2001, shortly after is conversion to Christianity. He remained imprisoned for 3 years, undergoing torture before his release in may 2004. He was arrested once again in January 2006, and has been held in Pyongyang since that time awaiting execution.

Son Jong Hoon, the brother of the condemned prisoner, appeared at the National Press Club in Washington accompanied by representatives of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) and staff members from the office of Senator Sam Brownback,

Protest are also being held in London and South Korea.

The South Korean government, whose “friendship policy” includes to avoid criticism of the North Korean government, has refused to intevene, even though the trumped up charges are that Son is a South Korean spy.

The real danger to North Korea is twofold: religion is a separate authority that judges right and wrong without regard to the party line, and second, Pastor Son has embarrased the North Korean government by speaking to his brother and others outside North Korea “about the food situation and international aid to the country, where famine has killed as many as 2 million people since the 1990s.

The execution of Pastor Son is the tip of the iceburg of a country that is on the verge of collapse or revolution.

The US website for those who are into activism is HERE.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket 

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