In an impromptu and unprecedented move, on June 30, President Donald Trump stepped over the DMZ into North Korea—making him the first sitting U.S. president to cross the 38th Parallel.
In an hour-long meeting, reportedly arranged on Twitter earlier in the weekend, Trump met with North Korean President Kim Jong-Un. The meeting is the the third face-to-face encounter between the two leaders in just over a year.
What happened at the meeting?
Reportedly, the two leaders amicably greeted one another with smiles and handshakes. They shook hands across the demarcation line between North Korea and South Korea before Trump briefly crossed into North Korea.
Kim noted he had never expected to meet President Trump “at this place.” According to the BBC, Kim looked relaxed as he crossed into South Korea. Alongside President Trump, he said through an interpreter: “I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future.”
Trump greeted Kim, saying, “Big moment, tremendous progress,” later noting to press that it was a “great day for the world” and calling their friendship “particularly great.” Speaking next to President Trump in a rare statement to the press, Kim said the meeting was a symbol of their “excellent” relationship.
In yet another unprecedented moment, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in briefly joined the two leaders where they met, a building in South Korea known as the Freedom House.
Reportedly, both countries agreed to set up teams to resume denuclearization talks. Negotiators from the two countries will meet in the next weeks to resume discussions about North Korea’s nuclear program, Trump said, noting that he was “not looking for speed [but] looking to get it right.”
While these unprecedented moves and amiable statements offer symbolic moments for both world leaders, questions must be raised. Most notably, what will these continued talks and “new future,” as Kim said, mean for the 300,000-plus Christians who have no freedom to worship or read the Bible?
In constant danger for following Jesus
In the country repeatedly criticized for its egregious human rights record (North Korea has been ranked No. 1 on Open Doors’ World Watch List for the last 18 years), Christians are officially classified as political outcasts; any public expression of faith can mean imprisonment or death.
And in the country that uses fear and manipulation to rule its people, parents cannot tell their own children about their faith for fear of being discovered and to protect their family (punishments often extend to family members of the accused). Anyone who is perceived as a “threat” to the spread of the Kim family’s ideology is quickly eradicated from society into detention centers, re-education camps and maximum-security hard labor prison camps
Open Doors estimates there are 250,000 imprisoned North Koreans—50,000 of which are political prisoners jailed for their Christian faith. Former prisoners tell horrific stories of being beaten daily, caged, receiving only a few kernels of rotten corn a day, and numerous other unspeakable atrocities.
A woman known as “Prisoner 42” described her daily experience as a political prisoner. When she arrived, she was stripped of her clothes—and her name,
“Every day, I’m beaten and kicked … At the end of the day, they bring me back to my cell. It isn’t often that I get to lie down. They force me to sit on my knees with closed fists and never allow me to open them.”
In less than a year, Trump has now met with the ruler of North Korea three times. (The first Trump-Kim summit took place June 12, 2018, followed by what turned into a brief meeting on February 27 in Vietnam). And to date, nothing has been done to address these religious rights abuses. Nothing has been done to bring about a “new future” for Kim’s suffering people, including Christians who are denied the human right to freely worship without risking their lives.
As Open Doors’ Advocacy Director Isaac Six points out, the conversation between countries shouldn’t begin and end with nuclear weapons.
“Should regimes that support terrorists and threaten genocide against others be confronted whenever possible?” he writes. “Absolutely. But we can never forget that a nation is made up of far more than just its government. In our zeal to stop what may be a very real threat, we must also craft our response in such a way that the rights and freedoms of millions are elevated and protected.”
Bottom line: By ignoring North Korea’s deplorable treatment of human rights, the Trump-Kim talks are also ignoring and devaluing the more than 300,000 men, women and children who have chosen to follow Jesus.
An unprecedented groundswell of prayer?
As the body of Christ, we’re called to be a voice for the voiceless. The writer of Proverbs doesn’t mince words when it comes to how we respond to the suffering of those who cannot speak up:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Prov. 31:8-9 NLT).
In Hebrews 13:3, the call becomes even more personal, as we’re told to “remember those in prison, as if you were in prison with them. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”
Through both advocacy and prayer, we can follow this biblical call. In the days, weeks and months ahead as both countries set up teams to resume talks, pray daily and fervently with us that these conversations will also include human rights—and that action will emerge as a result.
Pray that God will raise up leaders in the room who will act courageously and compassionately—raising these critical issues to set a new course of religious freedom. Pray that the North Korean people would, indeed, see a new future for their families and the church of 300,000 believers. Ask Him to intervene in ways we can’t fathom.
Just like these unprecedented diplomatic moves are generating discussions, they could also birth an unprecedented groundswell of prayer from the worldwide Church for our persecuted brothers and sisters. We can pray that these meetings will be the foundation God uses to bring about change for the North Korean people.
Raise your voice
God is working in North Korea. He continues to write His story there through the secret church and through you as you strengthen our persecuted family. North Korean believers tell us that they are persevering in the face of relentless persecution. A recent message from a North Korean believer shares an inside look:
“We give thanks, praise and glory to our Heavenly Father who makes us victorious all the time. Whenever we face difficulties, we break through the difficulties by the power of faith. We walk on the road of faith while singing songs of victory. That is only possible through the love and support from our fellow workers around the world.”
As both countries gear up for these discussions, please raise your voice and urge President Trump’s administration to make human rights and religious freedom a critical issue in this conversation. Ask him to use his relationship with Kim and inroads with him to speak up for the suffering. Please commit these talks to daily prayer and comment below. You can also share this post and the Twitter post below:
President Trump has the opportunity to catalyze change and reform. And we have the opportunity to bring this message to the front burner. We all have the responsibility to ensure our brothers and sisters who are risking their lives are not ignored.
Top photo: Footage from South Korea’s YTN television shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un standing in the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjeom in the Demilitarized Zone on June 30, 2019. It was their third meeting. (Kyodo via AP Images) ==Kyodo