The Mission to North Korea

By Torrey, Ben | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 2008 | Go to article overview

The Mission to North Korea


Torrey, Ben, International Bulletin of Missionary Research


The article that follows this one is unusual for the depth of insight and direct experience with which its author writes on the religious psychology of North Korea. Ben Torrey has put readers of the INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN OF MISSIONARY RESEARCH in his debt both by editing George Kap-Hun Kim's translation of Hyun-Sik Kim's article and by supplying an introduction that situates Kim's life and work within the wider context of mission to North Korea.

Torrey himself grew up in South Korea, where he joined with his parents in pioneering Jesus Abbey, a community of prayer high in the Taebaek Mountains of Kangwon Do. Following graduation from college in the United States, he directed a community service organization for over two years and then, with his wife, Liz, spent a year in Korea at Jesus Abbey.

Upon returning to the United States for the second time, the Torreys settled in Connecticut, where Ben served as a self-supporting pastor with the Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America while working in the fields of computer systems development and knowledge management.

Seeing the need for the church and South Korean society to prepare properly for the inevitable opening of North Korea, Torrey, in conjunction with Jesus Abbey, began the Fourth River Project in 2003. He was also given responsibility to direct Jesus Abbey's Three Seas Training Center. The Torreys returned to Korea in October 2005 in order to pursue this work full time.--Editor

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The Democratic People's Republic of Korea--North Korea--presents us with a great missiological challenge. It is perhaps the country most closed to missions today, yet, ironically, it shares a relatively small landmass with the nation that, on a per-capita basis, sends out the most missionaries in the world--the Republic of Korea, or South Korea. North Korea controls all access to the country quite stringently and allows very few foreign nationals to live within its borders. Those who do are under constant surveillance, making it extremely difficult to share even casually about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Even so, a large number of organizations are involved in work for and in North Korea. They run the gamut from Christian owned private businesses operating with permission of the government to those who send Scripture balloons from the south when the winds are right. Various well-known humanitarian organizations finance noodle and soy-milk factories, provide medical supplies, and the like. Some, in direct challenge to the government, are overt in their efforts to evangelize and build up the underground church. Others hope that by providing assistance in the name of Christ, they will soften attitudes in the North and pave the way for change. Still others hope that through employing North Koreans in their businesses, they will have opportunities to bless the country, make friends, and share the love of Jesus Christ on a person-to-person basis. These organizations are involved in the present. They provide practical assistance now, seeking to convert and to bring about change in the present.

Preparing for Change

Other organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental, have an eye on the future, preparing for the inevitable. For many, it is a foregone conclusion that the day is coming when North Korea will open to the outside world. While there are contradictory ideas about when and how, there is wide agreement that it will happen within the next few years. A five- to ten-year time frame is frequently mentioned.

Preparation takes many forms, from building roads and rail links to developing strategies to prevent economic collapse and humanitarian catastrophe. It also involves building an understanding of the North in those who look to take advantage of the opening to go in and share the Gospel.

South and North Korea have been separated and moving down widely divergent roads for the past sixty years. …

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