|More than 400 pastors and church leaders attend a conference
in Hong Kong. (Photo: China Aid)
(Hong Kong—Dec. 9, 2016) Sitting down for an exclusive interview with a China Aid reporter in Hong Kong on Nov. 2, two Chinese pastors from persecuted house churches described the difficulties they face as they seek to spread Christianity among North Koreans in China and North Korea.
The two Christians, who elected to remain anonymous, shared their testimonies, both attesting to the ways their lives changed once they entered the faith. One admitted to serving as the second-in-command advisor to the local mafia boss and converted a week after someone discussed Christianity with his mother, even though he initially expressed opposition to the religion. At the time of his conversion, he was a few weeks away from robbing a bank transportation van, which he planned for years. However, his desire to lead the same kind of life evaporated, and he canceled the robbery.
Despite his subsequent attempts to lead an upright life, he said:
“I talked to God, saying, ‘Lord, I can’t imagine why, when I was a bad guy, I was in constant contact with the policemen, and now, even after I became such a good person, I still have to deal with them everyday.’ They will ask me to go to the police station and then question me. The longest I’ve ever been questioned was for more than half a day, and they didn’t give me any food.”
Similarly, the other man said he led an awful life before becoming a Christian but did not disclose any details. Before his conversion, his mother prayed he would enter the faith for seven years.
Afterwards, the men partnered with one another and tuned their focuses on evangelizing one of the world’s most reclusive and religiously oppressive countries—North Korea.
Dictated by the ideology that its leaders are gods, North Korea considers all ideological dissidence subversive to state control and imposes strict crackdowns on those who profess another faith. In moves that echo the Holocaust, entire families of Christians are rounded up and sentenced to years in secretive labor camps, where they are murdered, worked to death, starved, sexually abused, tortured and forced to witness the executions of those who try to escape. North Korea considers its citizens guilty by association and arrests up to three generations of a prisoner’s family.
Currently, the pastors are training a group of Chinese Christians to go to North Korea as missionaries. When asked what fears they have about going into such a hostile nation, one of them said, “We have no fears.” Paraphrasing the rest of his words, the translator continued:
“Actually, he shared something about the cruelty of how people will be mistreated in North Korea if they are found to be Christians, or if they ever say anything about Jesus. If they are North Koreans, their family will probably disappear, and the men will probably be beaten or have their hands chopped off. If they are women, you can imagine; maybe they will be raped by many people at the same time. So, he’s saying that, since you’re speaking of fear, their team is training [missionaries] who are fearless and also don’t have family. Like, they’re single, they’re not married yet, but they’re ready to lay down their lives for Christ at any time if they ever go to [North] Korea and meet any bad situations.”
As they prepare to send these young people over the border, the church has also directed its evangelistic efforts to North Koreans living in China.
Succumbing to various government-imposed pressures, such as a lack of medical or food resources, some North Koreans decide to flee the country. Hemmed in by the South Korean border, which is patrolled by the U.S., South Korean and North Korean militaries and is filled with miles of land mines, most opt to take the dangerous journey across the Tumen River, which severs North Korea from the Chinese mainland. Officially, this trek is illegal, as all non-government approved trips outside of the country are seen as acts of treason. Refugees risk being shot if spotted by border patrol officers, causing many to pay guides who specialize in smuggling people across the border.
However, because of its alliance with North Korea, China refuses to grant North Koreans refugee status. As such, all North Koreans who flee to China enter the country illegally and face forced repatriation if they are discovered. Imprisonment, torture, and sometimes even death await them upon their arrival back to their home country.
Even if they do manage to evade Chinese authorities, their status as undocumented immigrants leaves them vulnerable to abuse and fearful that others will turn them into the government. Taking advantage of this, human traffickers, sometimes doubling as guides, work on both sides of the border to sell North Korean women into prostitution or marriages with Chinese men. Estimates approximate that up to 90 percent of North Korean women who enter China are forcibly married or sold into the sex industry. Non-compliance could prompt their abusers to turn them into the government.
Even as the Chinese police attempt to snuff out North Koreans trapped behind their borders, Christians in China have begun searching them out in order to share the Gospel. In describing their efforts to evangelize North Korean women, whom they claim are more likely to settle in China than the men, the pastors said they help them with their work, provide counseling for them and get to know their husbands, so that the men will trust them to be around their wives.
Due to the language barrier, it is often difficult for the pastors to provide quality Christian teaching for these women. When they arranged for South Korean pastors to come preach to the North Koreans in their church, the government accused them of associating with Christians overseas, which they claim allows foreign ideas to infiltrate China. As a result, they had to stop bringing the pastors in.
An excerpt of the interview has been transcribed below. Sections of the interview which might compromise the safety of the two pastors or those associated with them have been removed.
China Aid reports abuses within China, such as those suffered by North Koreans and the Chinese Christians reaching out to them, and adamantly opposes the repression of religious freedom in China and North Korea in order to stand in solidarity with the persecuted.
Editor’s note: In order to respect the pastors’ wish to remain anonymous, they will be referred to as “A” and “A2.” Since the translator often paraphrased their thoughts, she will be referred to as “T.” The reporter will be referred to as “R.”
R: How do they become Christians?
T: Before they became Christians, they were losers in society, and God has saved them miraculously. [A] believed in Jesus because his mother prayed for him for seven years. His mother dedicated him to the Lord on the same day that he converted. He believed in Jesus reluctantly.
A lot of miracles happened along the way after he became a Christian, and there were times when God reminded him or gave him verses in his mind. God talked to him, like speaking loudly in his ears, saying that if anyone persecutes you, you should flee from one city to another. So now, no matter who he meets, he will share the Gospel with them. As long as it’s a person, it’s a life.
A: I used to be a bad guy, so I tell [others] that since God can change a bad person like me, he can surely change you.
T: And, before he became a Christian, he got divorced, and his wife left him with a boy, but, as he shared with me yesterday, they kind of separated for 10 years after the marriage, and then they became Christians separately, and then they remarried again.
They found out that they had both become Christians, and they got back together. They both serve the Lord and are working in the ministry field. He used to have heart disease, so he couldn’t do really heavy labor, so every day, he read the Bible and preached and shared the Gospel with people.
A: I feel like I have encountered some hardships, but I believe that there are people who live in worse conditions than me. In my village, there were girls who ran away from North Korea, but they came to China, and they met human traffickers, so they were sold as wives to the local villagers.
T: Normally, the villagers are poor; that’s why they cannot find Chinese wives, so [the women] are living in worse conditions than [the pastors], and that’s why he had this opportunity to approach them and share the Gospel with them.
A: So, after I reach out to them, I share the Gospel with them and tell them that, even though they are hopeless and living in such hard conditions, there is life in Jesus, and He will change their lives. Then, they really change. Because I really want them to know the truth, I’d like to find good preachers to deliver good messages to them; that’s why I contacted some Chinese Koreans, and then, through them, they introduced me to South Korean pastors. Then, because of Chinese restrictions, [the Chinese Koreans] were not allowed to be in contact with foreigners because of our beliefs. So, they were blacklisted by the police, and I gave up contacting the foreigners.
R: So have they faced lots of opposition for trying to evangelize North Korean women? What types of opposition have they faced?
A: Yes, there has been much opposition. Because of the language barrier, we had many difficulties in the beginning, but later on, when the girls started to learn Chinese, it became much easier. In order to win their favor and their trust, we helped them in their work and also provided counseling to them to help them solve their problems in life. That’s how they began to trust us. The North Koreans are hard to change, and they have this dark side of human nature. Even if we clothe them and feed them, after a while, they will still turn against us and do bad things to us. When the North Korean men flee to China, they [sometimes] cannot survive in China, so they might leave China, but the girls will stay. The girls get married to the locals, and then they have children, settle down, pick up the language, and start to get used to life here.
R: So it’s easier for them to settle down.
R: That makes sense. Has the government had any opposition to this?
A: Because they came to China illegally, the policemen hunt them. We don’t interfere with the policemen’s hunting, but, when we see [North Koreans] are in trouble, we will help them.
R: So it’s more like quiet helping rather than resisting the police.
A: Yes. We don’t have money to give to them, but, what we can do is just help them with their labor in the field and counsel them.
R: What are some of the problems that North Koreans face coming to China?
T: They are probably poor, so if they cannot survive, then they will leave the place, and he doesn’t know exactly where they are heading to.
R: So they face general survival difficulties. I want to know if there is anything they would like the world to know about Christian persecution in China?
A: Are you talking about persecution in general or when we are helping the North Koreans? Because they are foreigners, we don’t help as Christians. We cannot live like that. If we approach them, it is illegal because they are foreigners, and we are not allowed to be in touch with them.
R: So has the government ever watched them personally for connecting with North Koreans?
T: Now, it’s better, but years ago, it was worse. Because these girls were sold as wives, they are under the close watch of their husbands. Their husbands were scared that they might run away, because many of these cases happened. So, when the pastors approach the girls, they approach their husbands first and help them and show kindness to them so that they can lay down their prejudice against Christians, and then they get the access to talk to their wives.
R: So it’s like they’re gaining trust. Before, the husbands might not trust them, but afterwards, once they trust them, they’re more likely to allow them to talk to their wives.
A: Years ago, when there were dozens of [North Korean women] coming into China, I rented a place to keep them and provide them with boarding and food, but then, when the policemen found out, they tried to arrest these people, and I was also involved. I was taken to the police station and interrogated.
R: What kind of questions did the police ask when he was being interrogated?
A: They asked if I had ever been in touch with any foreigners, but I hadn’t, other than two. Because I’m not so well-educated, and I don’t know any foreign languages, so I cannot really communicate with foreigners, and also I honestly share what the Bible says with people.
A2: So we have changed our traditional method in terms of helping the North Koreans. Before, the North Koreans came to China, but now, we send Chinese people to North Korea through a [Christian] brother who has a registered travel agency. So, as Christians, we can travel to North Korea.
T: Yesterday, they shared that there are two cities in North Korea that have opened up to China now, so they have five or six co-workers there who set up a base to work there. They’re staying there, so they shift all kinds of materials over there and help the North Koreans financially and with their agricultural technology, education, and give them some training, things like that. They also help them with their kindergarten and kids in the mountainous areas who are living in poor conditions, and teach them agricultural knowledge. They can hardly find any news about how people are living in North Korea on TV or on any news media, so what we know comes from the people who come back from North Korea.
R: Have you been to North Korea yourselves?
A2: No, not yet. We have co-workers from our team who work there, and we made a plan to go there ourselves this year, and we are still praying for that. We are asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. North Korea is maybe the most difficult country to share the Gospel in. It’s very closed, so maybe because it’s so difficult that many evangelizing ministries in China prefer to go to the minority group areas in China towards the west. More of the minority groups are living on the western side of China, like Yunnan province, Guizhou province or Tibet, but we have two purposes in our vision: one is to share the Gospel to North Korea, and the other one is to take the Gospel to the Middle East.
R: What are some of the fears going into North Korea as missionaries?
A2: We have no fears.
T: Actually, he shared something about the cruelty of how people will be mistreated in North Korea if they are found to be Christians or if they ever say anything about Jesus. If they are North Koreans, their family will probably disappear, and men will probably be beaten or have their hands chopped off. If they are women, you can imagine; they may be raped by many people at the same time. So, he’s saying that, since you’re speaking of fear, their team is training [missionaries] who are fearless and also don’t have family. Like, they’re single, they’re not married yet, but they’re ready to lay down their lives for Christ at any time if they ever go to [North] Korea and meet any bad situations.
R: Praise God for people like that!
T: So actually, they are not really worried about the Chinese government. They are worried about the North Korean government….
A & A2: So there was a Chinese pastor, he was Korean Chinese, and he had been in the ministry of evangelizing North Koreans for 17 years, but this June or July, his body was found in the Tumen River in northeast China. He was probably assassinated by the North Koreans. He was stabbed 17 times.
A: So that’s why we’re now building this fearless team of people who are willing to die if they have to. Because it’s not about ourselves, or about them, but all that matters is God’s kingdom.
Because we love them, and God loves them, and God has mercy upon them, so we are willing to dedicate ourselves to them. We hope that everybody that can contribute their efforts to this ministry. We can be united together and accomplish the purpose together.
A2: We don’t want to be known by people. We just want to make our own efforts for Christ. We’re specially called by God to be in this ministry, which nobody else wants to do.
A2: I will briefly introduce the persecution we suffered from the government. I have believed in Jesus for 16 years, [beginning] in the year 2000. I used to be in the mafia. I was the advisor to a big boss in the mafia. Among the gangsters, and I was the second most powerful man; so, I visited the police station very often. It was like going back to my own home. In the year 1999, I was planning to rob a van that transported money from the bank. Back then, I did every bad thing that you can imagine except murder. I planned to rob the money transporting van for about a year. In the beginning of the year 2000, someone shared the Gospel with my mom. At that time, I was really against it, but the person who shared the Gospel with me was an elderly colleague of mine. And then, I was really against what he shared but, after one week, I don’t know what happened. I told him that I had changed my mind, and that I’m willing to believe in Jesus. Now, I know that it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me. After I converted, everything changed in my life. Automatically, I dropped the plan to rob the van. Since then, I have been serving in the church. Originally, I went to the Three-Self government church. In the year 2001, I left the Three-Self Church, and I started to provide my services in the house church. I assume that you know the situation of the government church. I won’t repeat it [Editor’s note: China’s government churches are the only legal churches, but they are controlled by the state. As a result, many Chinese Christians have theological disagreements with the official Three-Self Churches and choose to attend house churches instead]. Over the past decade, I was persecuted or interrogated by people from different government authorities, such as the policemen, the public security bureau, the religious affairs bureau, or departments like that. I talked to God, saying, ‘Lord, I can’t imagine why, when I was a bad guy, I was in constant contact with the policemen, and now, even after I have become such a good person, I still have to deal with them every day.’ They will ask me to come to the police station and then question me. The longest time they questioned me was for more than half a day, and they didn’t give me any food. According to Chinese law, they can only detain me for less than 24 hours without any paperwork or anything, but if it is more than 24 hours, they need to get the official paperwork.
R: To get a charge or something?
T: Yes. He’s working for the government. The bureau he’s working for is called the City Management Bureau. It’s like, if there is a vendor on the street, they will kick them out of the street in order to keep order and cleanliness of the place, but actually, they have a really bad reputation among Chinese people, because it is not convenient [for the citizens], and mostly, when they enforce the law, they do it in a very bad and mean manner. They argue and fight with people. That’s just background information.
R: Okay. So they’re not popular?
T: No, it’s like when there is an earthquake or disaster, and the people will joke online, “We should send people from their bureau to help them!”
[Editor’s note: A begins talking]
T: Now, they are in competition about how bad they were.
R: Before they became Christians or now?
T: Before. [A] said that [A2] was really bad, but he was also bad because he had some disagreement with his pastor, and he actually prepared a bag of bombs, and he wanted to throw the bombs into the church and kill the pastor.
You know, in the Chinese government, if you want to get promoted in the system if you work in different bureaus and departments, it actually depends on how long you’ve stayed at the place. [A2] has been there for more than 10 years, but he’s still just a common civil servant. He has not been promoted because of his belief in Jesus. It is not allowed if you are a Christian. You cannot be promoted.
R: Does he get a lot of people disapproving within his department?
T: No, it’s just politically not possible, but his diligence has been recognized by this co-workers and his leaders. They have nothing to criticize him about his work.
R: So they don’t necessarily agree, there’s just no way based on policy.
T: And [A] shared that he was with the pastor in the Three-Self Church. The pastor raised a lot of money from the South Koreans, but we don’t know how he spent his money, because this brother knows about his financial situation and everything. [He knows] all his little secrets. So, he was forced to leave that place and started to go to a house church. He left the rich pastor and started the house church on his own, and he suffered financially. But, along the way, he has encountered many miracles. He is also very happy, even though he is living in poverty and in a difficult situation.
A: I can feel that God is with me all the time.
R: With God, there is joy, right?
T: [A2] is under 24-hour surveillance by the policemen and the security department, and his phone calls and electronic devices are all monitored. Their team planned to come here on this trip. Among the 23 co-workers on their team who planned to come to this event, 17 of them were from [redacted] province, and 15 of them were detained and couldn’t make it. Then, the other several from [A’s] place … five of them were also detained.*
R: So, 20 in total.
A2: The policemen joined with the people from the religious affairs bureau and also the security department. They went to these people’s houses and kept their passports and IDs without any reason.
R: This is this week, when they were coming here?
T: Yes. [A2] is a very smart person. He told us how he got around the policemen and came here. He went to Shenzhen. He bought a train ticket from his place to Shenzhen. Now, if we purchase a train ticket, we need to use our ID and all information is in the computer system, so he suspected that he would probably be tracked by the policemen once he got on the train. They would know, so he got off the train one stop in advance. So he came to Shenzhen by bus, and then he got the last bus and got through customs and stayed at customs overnight. Then, the next morning, he got the first bus and came to this hotel. You know the martial arts of Sun Tzu?
R: The Art of War, the book?
T: The book. It’s a very famous book, with 36 different strategies [of war]. He said that he used two of the strategies in the book.
R: Which strategies did he use?
T: One is “Shan dong ji xi.” It means, “I gave the signal that I am heading towards the east, but actually, I am going west.” And then, the other one is called, “When you are preparing a pot, you have to make a fire underneath it. But then, I take the wood out of the oven” [Editor’s note: These quotes are paraphrases of quotes from The Art of War by Sun Tzu]. So it’s like, when applied to his trip this time, it’s like he gave the signal that he’s heading to Shenzhen, but actually he went to Guangzhou. Then, it’s like, when everything is ready, when the policemen might think that they have prepared the net and the time is right and they can actually capture him in the net, he actually gets in the middle. So it is ready to cook, but you have no wood. So it’s like the special agent stories produced by Hollywood.
R: The next spy movie will be about [A2]!
A2: [Like] 007.
R: 007. He’s James Bond, right?
T: So just like I told you, when [A2 and his friends] got through the customs, there was just one hotel nearby, and it was full, so they had to spend the night on the long benches in the small park nearby. There were three of them.
R: So he was with [A] as well, right?
T: No, they came separately.
A: There were four co-workers from Heilongjiang province, and they separated into two teams. The reason they separated is that they don’t want to risk putting everyone together. If one team gets caught, then the other team can get away.
R: That’s smart.
T: So you know, at customs, they work 24 hours. So they planned to arrive at customs, and they got through customs at around six o’clock at dawn. [They knew] the officers were all tired, so [they thought] maybe they could get through there. Both of their teams, they met in this specific customs location called “shang xue.”
R: Oh okay. Very clever. I know [A2] mentioned that they’re tracking his cell phone and his calls. When did that start?
T: More than 10 years ago. He’s been changing his SIM card constantly. They have their special code for talking about the Bible or the ministry. It’s like “I’m doing business,” or “selling rice;” things like that. If they have a special ministry event to do, they will say, “We will deliver the oil to you.” Then, if they’re going to give a speech or preach, then they will say, “We will deliver rice to you,” because it’s like a battlefield, and we are in the front lines. We are fighting against the devil.
[Editor’s note: A starts talking]
T: You know the story in the Old Testament when the prophet ran away and hid himself and the raven came down and brought bread to him? He said that we are also looking for ravens to bring us bread.
A2: That was the prophet Elijah, so we encourage the co-workers on our team to have the mindset of Elijah.
A: There are many people who know about our team now. They call us “The fearless team who hangs their heads with their belts.”
T: It means they don’t care about their lives.
A: We think that ultimately, it is God Who will be responsible for our lives.
R: I agree!
A2: God’s grace is sufficient.
A: We don’t know the future yet, and [we] have financial needs also. So we pray constantly, 24 hours a day, in our mind and our hearts. We pray all the time. We don’t stop praying. We have many dreams in our hearts, and we have burdens for the churches suffering from poverty. Also, we have burdens for the ministers and the co-workers both in the government church and in the house church. It doesn’t matter what identity they are, but, as long as they love the Lord, we keep them in our prayers. So, whoever is carrying the same ministry with us and shares the same burden—it doesn’t matter if they’re just fearless warriors in prayer or they’re working in the field—they’re in our minds. We keep them in our prayers also.
A2: Our network has covered 30 provinces in China. So, for the people who are fighting on the front lines, they have very difficult situations. For instance, on one hand, they don’t have steady financial aid, and then, they will have to face the resistance or persecution from the government. So I always tell my co-workers, if we are lacking in anything or we are in need, we just need to kneel down and pray to God. Even if the world doesn’t treat us well or someone who doesn’t understand us doesn’t treat us well, God will be just, and God will justify everything to us.
A: We’re planning to hold an annual meeting for this coming year. If you two are interested, you are welcome to visit. Now, we’re planning the planning meeting, including co-workers from Yunnan, Xinjiang, and Tibet. They will come. [People] in Hainan province in Yanbian area [will also come]. There will be people from [different minority groups] joining us.
A2: So, you’re welcome to come and see what we’re doing.
A: And also we’re going to have an ordination ceremony for several of the pastors. Now, the draft of the new Regulations on Religious Affairs is even stricter, so we will suspect that the situation will be more difficult.
R: What are they anticipating?
A: [The government] will restrict in terms of interactions between the co-workers or restrict finances, and also they will track people down. Additionally, the citizens who have no steady income can enjoy a 300 Yuan [$44.00 USD] per month minimum pension from the government, but, if the people say they are Christians with an active faith, they probably will be cut off from the pension.
A2: According to the new regulations, it doesn’t matter if it is a government church or house church. The government can ordain new pastors and get rid of the previous ones. It’s not biblical.
R: No, it’s scary. It’s really scary.
A2: And also the financial department of the church will need to report to the religious affairs bureau.
A: The pastor is not in power of managing the finances any more. The donations or the tithes will be taken away or given to the government.
A2: The house church will need to be registered with the authorities. Otherwise, the landlord will not be allowed to rent out the place for them to meet any more.
A: So, we really need brothers and sisters in the outside world to pray hard for us. I believe that God will open the way for us.
R: That kind of leads into my next question, because, in our organization, we have a lot of prayer warriors and a lot of people who are interested in helping these situations, whether that be through prayer or financially, so could you maybe ask them if there’s anything that I can share with our audience?
T: You want to know their needs, right?
R: Yes, their needs, so I can share it with other people.
T: If there is an opportunity, they would like to visit your church or your organization so that they can share their burdens for the North Koreans and the Middle East with the brothers and sisters there in person.
A2: So first of all, we need your prayers, but secondly, we don’t ask people for financial aid by ourselves, but we do have these needs for the ministry to North Koreans. Also, I believe that since God has put this vision in our hearts, we can trust that He will send the right people to be co-workers with us and also contribute to our ministry. So all these years, we have gone through all the hardships and difficult situations through prayers.
A: I have a different opinion from this brother, because I don’t know that if, when he goes back to his hometown, any bad things will happen to him or [his church’s] finances will be cut. I’d like to say that we should feel unashamed of receiving financial aid or any other aid for our ministries and things including our train tickets, travel expenses, things like that, because we’re not doing things for ourselves. We’re doing them for the Lord. Because he still works for the government, he still has a salary around 2,000 Yuan [$290.00 USD], but I have two kids, and my travel expenses and the cost I paid for this trip was donated by three co-workers back home, so I’d rather say I’m not here for tourism. If I’m doing this for the Lord, I will not feel ashamed for receiving from others. Even though we have different opinions, we understand each other.
A2: Even though we are poor and are short financially, we are not short in our will or in our dignity. Also, God is a God of abundance.
A2: We are already very thankful to you for giving us this opportunity to share the stories of the people fighting on the front lines, and we need you take this information to share with your brothers and sisters back home. We’re already very thankful for that.
*Locational information removed to protect the safety of those involved
ChinaAid Media Team
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]
For more information, click here