Far East

Weeping for a Hermit Kingdom: Native Missionaries Reaching North Korea

We’re republishing this as part of our 25th anniversary series featuring favorite stories from our archives. This story by Virginia Tobias appeared in ANM’s Voices in the Wilderness magazine in 1999. Enjoy!

“Get out of town!”

It was Christmas Eve, 1947. The place was North Korea. I had gone to the church two hours early to make preparations for the annual Sunday School program. It was nearly time to begin, but the principal and the academic dean of the Christian High School had not yet arrived. “They left home an hour ago!” their families anxiously explained. It was not long before our fears were confirmed. We discovered that they were among twenty Christian leaders who had been arrested that night.

Early the next morning I hurried to the mayor’s office. Since we were good friends, I entered his back door. Although I could not be seen, I could see him talking to a stranger. The mayor was reading the names of Christians who were to be arrested last night—and mine was included! The Lord spoke to me, “Shut the door,” and as I hastily moved down each step, I heard “Get out of town! Get out of town!” I returned home and told my wife and mother. I instantly moved my family to our orchard which we owned in a remote rural area. I myself went into hiding for a few months, and then the Lord led me to South Korea in a miraculous way. Many pastors were disappearing, one by one, martyred for their faith. I, too, was ready to die if God so chose. Instead, God in His sovereign mercy directed me to go to a place of safety.

When I was settled in Seoul, my uncle went to North Korea. He cautiously agreed to bring my family out. When he told my wife and mother that we wanted them to come and join me, my mother immediately began to pack. “No, you cannot take anything with you,” my uncle explained, “for then it will be obvious that you are going to South Korea and they might put you in prison or even kill you!”

Staggered by the thought of leaving everything behind, my mother reasoned with him. “Rumor says that this will all be over in a month or two. I will just stay here and take care of things.” She also decided to keep our four-year-old daughter, Win-Ok, with her. By God’s grace, my uncle was able to bring my wife to join me in Seoul.

For three long years my wife and I awakened each morning weeping for our precious Win-Ok. Our grief made it hard to even pray. Finally I cried out to God in torment, “A Christian is supposed to be joyous, no matter what—but I just cannot forget her! Would you please erase this pain? My precious daughter, my dear mother—I know we can meet in heaven someday, but please, would you help us to meet on earth, too? And until that time, would you please care for them and help us to forget about them?” Oh, I tell you—God did help us. He heard our desperate prayer.

It was in 1990, after 43 years of separation that the Lord allowed me to be reunited with my cherished daughter and during our few treasured hours together, to lead her to Jesus!

Preparing for service

Born into a Christian home in North Korea, Brother Kim was 14 years old when God’s spirit convicted him during a church service. On the second Sunday of November, 1936, while listening to a sermon from John 3:16, he realized his lost condition. Kneeling on the floor right then and there, he wept. “Oh God, you so loved ME? You died just for ME? What can I do for you?” The following morning he returned to his church, walking the long aisle alone to the altar where he knelt and committed his life to Christ.

The depth and sincerity of this commitment was evidenced by his daily schedule. He awakened at four in the morning and read his Bible until five. He would go to his church and pray until six. Then he would return home to eat breakfast and go to school. A natural-born leader, he began to walk to school with one friend at a time, “so I could tell them about Jesus.” Even at that early age, his pastor asked him to teach a Sunday School class of 6, 7, and 8-year-old boys; three of these became ordained pastors. His steadfast service to his people ended abruptly because of the communist resurrection ten years later.

Following their escape into South Korea, Brother Kim entered seminary. At the top of his class, he was chosen to receive further training in the US. After completing this, since he was still unable to return to his homeland, Brother Kim then pastored a church here in the states. For many years now he has served as a highly respected seminary professor. He travels across the US preaching to Korean congregations in his native tongue—“the language of heaven” he insists, with a twinkle in his eye.

How he yearns for the doors to open into North Korea! This stately 77-year-old gentleman is prayerfully attentive as he watches God’s hand slowly preparing the way. The enforced worship of Kim Il Jong, their deceased leader, has miserably failed to provide them with their basic needs. How long before they cry out for Truth?

Reaching North Korea

Because millions are starving to death, the Lord has put into the heart of Brother Kim a deep longing to help provide for his desperate people. During a recent trip to China, where North Koreans are frantically escaping across the border, he witnessed elderly people picking grass and eating it. He took with him survival kits which he gave to the refugees. He is returning to this dangerous territory with more kits which he will give to Korean-speaking Chinese pastors who are helping his people physically as well as spiritually. He plans to provide 8,000 survival kits each year. These kits contain various flours, dried foods, a Bible, and Tylenol. Brother Kim beams as he confides that North Koreans trust Tylenol to cure all manner of disease. The cost of this kit, including the Bible is $7.70.

The second part of his three-fold plan is to assist Korean-speaking Chinese church leaders who are well trained in soul-winning skills. As they go into North Korea, he hopes to provide them with food and clothing to share with those in need. The cost of this project is $3,000 per month.

The third portion of his vision is to send medicine and other medical supplies into his country at least twice a year. Many are sick and dying without medical assistance. Brother Kim estimates that the cost of this would be around $30,000.

This present-day Nehemiah weeps for his people, and though he is not allowed to return to them, his heart’s desire is to rebuild that which has been destroyed—to strengthen the hearts and bodies of his down-trodden kinsmen.

Twenty-five years after we started partnering with native missionaries to reach the unreached, the work continues, and we are closer than ever to seeing the Gospel proclaimed and lived out among every people group in the world. Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel!

There’s more to be done, and just $25 a month can equip another missionary. Learn More

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