Held in Turkey on charges of espionage and terrorism, facing a life sentence for doing the work of the church, American Pastor Andrew Brunson’s dramatic release was the work of high-powered diplomacy and prevailing prayer
After President Donald Trump’s historic visit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Trump declared he had “solved” the problem of a nuclear threat from the recluse nation.
Let’s hope so, but let’s also wait and see whether North Korea follows through with its promises on denuclearization.
Trump seemed charmed by Kim, saying in one interview that North Koreans love the dictator. This comes less than five months after Trump declared in his State of the Union address, “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”
A landmark 2014 report by the United Nations described a litany of North Korean atrocities: “beatings, starvation, exposure to cold, various torture techniques, rape, infanticide, and public executions.”
In 2016, the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide described testimony from other defectors: “Christians are reported to have suffered brutal violence. Forms of torture include beatings with fists or implements such as electric rods, wooden pokers, metal poles, water torture through forced submersion, and being used as test subjects for medical training and experimentation.”
After the Singapore summit, a reporter asked Trump if the pair had discussed human rights, and specifically asked about the “fate of the Christians” in a regime that doesn’t allow freedom of worship.
Trump said they had discussed the issue “very strongly,” and that “things will be happening.”
Again, let’s hope so, since some Christians are among the thousands of North Koreans exiled to a network of brutal prison camps for dissidents and other enemies of the regime.
During the course of the Singapore summit, I thought about Jung Gwang Il, a North Korean defector who has described being forced to stack dead bodies next to a latrine in the winter during his time in a North Korean prison. When the bodies thawed in the spring, guards forced the prisoners to bury them. The victims had died from extreme labor, illness, and starvation.
Jung now operates a group called “No Chain” that uses drones and other methods to get information into North Korea—often on USBs loaded with TV shows and movies that reveal life outside the regime. The group also produced the “Stealth Gospel”— taking 32 songs praising the North Korean regime and turning them into Christian praise songs.
Christian conversions aren’t unusual among North Korean defectors, and author Melanie Kirkpatrick has described what it’s like when Chinese Christians show kindness to a North Korean escapee: “It’s usually the first time in his life he’s encountered someone who has helped him out of the goodness of his heart. And it has a profound effect on these people.”
It should also have a profound effect on Christians around the world when we learn about believers willing to suffer and die for their faith. And it should bring to mind the Bible’s admonition not to forget them: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.”