For the church in North Korea lockdown is nothing new. The church has been driven underground and out of public life for four generations. But for this hermit nation, the coronavirus has presented new opportunities for the gospel.

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Andrew: So there is a parody of Christianity that is taking place, in this man-made religion, which is designed to effectively deify the dynasty there?

Dr Foley: So North Korean Christians have, over the course of three and now four generations, come to place their hope only in Christ and in his sufficiency. The political question is quite secondary to them, is quite abstract it from how they view their faith. They believe the issue's not regime change but heart change.

Andrew: So given the secretive nature of that society and the fact that the church there is completely secret in what they do, there's a range of guesses as to how many Christians there are in North Korea and how many of them are imprisoned. What's your best take on that?

Dr Foley: The number of Christians at any given time is between 80-100,000. We believe that's accurate. We would say that there are about 30,000 Christians in the most restrictive camps, the ones that would be camps from which no one will be released. So about one third of the Christians in North Korea would be in those camps.

Andrew: So which specifically Christian acts, the acts that we would identify as being Christian, are illegal there?

Dr Foley: The practices most familiar to North Korean Christians: the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles Creed, the knowledge of the 10 Commandments and some form of practice of a sacrament like the Lord's Supper or Baptism.

So, that would be how they would define it, all of those practices are certainly illegal. But even, for example, closing your eyes and bowing your head, is considered to be a subversive gesture in North Korea, and it would mark someone as a Christian and would cause them to be removed and detained immediately.

Andrew: So, given that extraordinary sense of restrictions on expressing your faith, to the point of closing your eyes and bowing your head will put you under suspicion, and suspicion is enough to get you in trouble, how do they fellowship?

Dr Foley: North Koreans are required to report on the activities of all homes within two homes of their own. So North Koreans don't assemble as other Christians do. In fact, it is most common for Christians not to ever meet or interact with Christians outside their families.

What's much safer is that North Korea is 70% mountains, and you can get in the spot where you are in a mountainous area, where you can look around and see and know that no one is nearby. And in that situation, if a family was walking along, they would love to sing a hymn out loud, and they do!

So when they pray, they don't simply whisper or mutter. North Korean Christians have the practice of praying with their eyes open, and they could pray right in front of the state security agent and the state security agent wouldn't know it.

Because, the way they would pray is they would say, 'I am so thankful we live in a country where our Dear Leader cares for us so intimately. I know even the illness of my sister doesn't escape the Dear Leader's attention. I would always want the Dear Leader to continue his practice of showing great care for us, and especially my sister.' That would be a prayer for a family member.

Andrew: In a moment, I'll ask you how we can pray for them, but the truth of the matter must be that we need what they've got. They have an overcoming, determined faith, that we need to catch. What is the most pressing thing that they have that we need?

Dr Foley: They much more live in a world where, on a day-to-day basis, they simply are unable to accomplish whatever needs to be done; whether that's in keeping their own families alive, whether to be able to avoid the sharp eye of the government, to be able to do anything they want to do. They can't. So they're completely relying on God, and so they have experience after experience of God showing up for them and doing those very things.

But it's simply that on a day-to-day basis, God makes ways for North Korean Christians to live out their faith.

And as we tell them about Christian life in the rest of the world, to them it always seems a little sad, a little tragic that Christians, as one North Korean Christian said to me, they seem to put their faith in their money and their freedom. But we have neither money nor freedom, we have only Christ and we found that he is sufficient.

Andrew: If North Koreans were to write an epistle to the church in the West, how would that begin, do you believe? Can you put yourself in their shoes and speak as a North Korean to the rest of us, at this time of coronavirus?

Dr Foley: They know that Christians in the UK and the rest of the world are the reason why this radio broadcast goes out and why the balloons happen. So they are aware of the provision has been made, so there will always be profuse thanks.

I think, though, on the heels of that will be a strong sense in urging and encouraging people not to worry so much, but simply to trust in the grace of God. So I think what they would say is to trust in God with childlike hope and trust, and that, whatever happens, to receive it from God's hands.

Andrew: What can we do for them, and how can we pray for them?

Dr Foley: So when we say, 'How can we pray for you, they would say that: 'Pray that God will find us faithful, as we pray that God will find you faithful.'

I have never, ever, in 20 years heard a North Korean Christian pray: 'God, get us out of this place! Pray that God will save us from this hellhole! Pray that God will bring about regime change!'

I think they would look at that as profoundly disloyal to God. I think they feel they owe God the loyalty of seeing God's grace at work in every situation.

Andrew: And in terms of practical provision?

Dr Foley: There is always ways we can partner. For example, when we talked to North Korean Christians at the beginning of our ministry, they said radios, radio broadcasts and the balloon launches were the key things that they wanted us to do that they could not do themselves inside of North Korea.

Since then, things that we have added outside of North Korea that are very important to them: the training of missionaries to be able to reach North Koreans in other countries, because they are simply not free to get up and go to other countries to reach these people.

So Release International partners with us in one of those training schools. By partnering together, we can provide four radio broadcasts instead of none. We can do 35,000 Bibles a year through balloon launches. We can reach the parts of the country when movement is not possible for ordinary citizens. So those are the ways that we can help financially.

Andrew: So that message I'm hearing from you is: give them the tools, and they will finish the job. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.