Despite being geographic neighbors, and sharing significant history and language, North and South Korea have long been severely divided. However, in May of this year, new potential for peace began surfacing.
In May, just as North Korea sought to expand its nuclear and missile arsenals, South Korean voters elected a president from a party who they hoped would take them in a new direction. President Moon Jae-in, from the center-left Democratic Party, immediately promised to “work toward putting our country back on its feet and helping all of you realize your dreams, as Koreans.”
Certainly there were South Koreans who hoped these dreams included more peaceable relations with their neighbors to the North.
Now, roughly two weeks after North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile test, President Moon seems to be hoping to do just that.
Since 1945, when Korea was divided into two, Open Doors has been active in both sides of the peninsula. However, the organization has been forced to function differently in the South than it does in the North.
In the South, for example, Open Doors works openly with public offices. In the North, however, Open Doors is forced to operate underground by providing believers with emergency aid, food, medicine, and clothes, as well as discipleship materials. We also provide shelter and aid for Christians who have fled the country, as well as training for those who wish to return to North Korea for ministry.
The country’s split in the mid-1940’s made it necessary to develop two different approaches to serving the two different Koreas. At the time, Russia and Japan took on temporarily administering the North, while the USA helped administer the South. In the decades that followed, these regions became very different from each other–especially when it came to religious freedom. The South, for instance, became home to some of the largest churches and missionary efforts in the world, while the North became a hostile regime that routinely jails, tortures, and executes people for their faith.
Moon’s Hope for Peace
The election of President Moon may just turn a new page in the peninsula’s divisive history. This week, Moon invited North Korean officials to a face-to-face talk at the North Korean border.
In the past, Moon had criticized previous South Korean officials for failing to negotiate better relations. Instead of hard-line diplomacy, Moon insisted he would use dialogue and pressure to resolve the long held tensions between the two Koreas.
Acting on this goal, Moon has proposed to host a series of two talks to de-escalate tension and reunite elderly Koreans separated by the Korean War. As of today, North Korea has not yet publicly responded to his invitation.
If these talks did occur, however, it would be considered a positive step for the whole peninsula, as there have been few talks between the two countries in the last decade.
The Current State of North Korea
Those concerned for the Korean peninsula are encouraged to pray for President Moon and these potential talks.
Right now, North Korea is ranked as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians. According to Open Doors’ World Watch List, “Inside the country, Christians are forced to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors and often, even their own spouses and children. Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation. Those who attempt to flee to South Korea through China risk execution or life imprisonment, and those who stay behind often fare no better.”
Please join Open Doors in praying that these talks, and the ongoing efforts of the new South Korean president, will help to introduce peace in this region and diminish the persecution of believers in North Korea.