At a coffee shop . . .
“But don’t you see, Eddie,” cried Kim Sung Ho, “For 50 years now, missionaries have been secretly infiltrating N. Korea with the gospel, winning converts from NK refugees, establishing underground churches now numbering well over half a million. Our secrecy was our key to unlocking that closed country. So long as the N. Korean regime underestimated the strength and breadth of our activities, we could continue sending back converted NK refugees to their homelands to spread the gospel. But now, now because of all the media exposure, our most important asset has been taken from us. Alarmed of our activities by the media, NK agents have effectively closed the borders, assassinated key missionary figures, invaded homes hiding refugees, and imprisoned thousands upon thousands of converts into concentration camps where they are treated as less than dogs. This is exciting news for you media people and it sells more newspapers, but you pay no cost. We must bear all the sacrifices. When you all are bored and gone away, we’ll still be here suffering from your curiosity!”
Sung Ho looked down and sighed in utter frustration.
“I know you mean well. But all you’re doing is making our job much more difficult. This is such an important time for us now. N. Korea is suffering its worst drought in over 100 years. The people are already starving from a five year-old famine. They are not getting any foreign aid. They need food, clothing, shelter and most of all the gospel, but now we can provide none of these things.”
Eddie felt guilty even though he was certain there was no reason for it. He watched Sung Ho try to control his anger that had been pent up seemingly after several years. He wanted to respond. But for now he just listened and allowed Sung Ho to vent.
“Do you know how hard it was to find homes that would take in these refugees? Now no one wants to take them in. It’s too big a risk now. Not only are there more spies everywhere, searching people’s houses randomly, the increased fines could cost them a few month’s salary not to mention the possibility of jail. If only you and the media had waited until the time was right, until revival had taken place within N. Korea, a revival so hot that it would topple Kim Jong Il’s idolatrous regime, but now the possibilities for that have grown dim.”
Eddie could no longer restrain himself. As if he had been holding his breath for minutes, he weakly asked a question that took the missionary by surprise and provoked some indignation, not because of its offensiveness, but because of its unspoken truth.
“Of course, this is a generalization, and does not apply to all missionaries whom I profoundly respect. But is it true that the provision of food, clothing, and shelter is contingent upon the refugee praying and reading the Bible? That is, must a refugee first convert in order to be able to eat your food?”
“You completely misunderstand our policy,” Sung Ho said animatedly. “These refugees need more than physical food. They need most of all spiritual food. If we give them rice, that will keep them alive for a day. But if we give them the word of God, that will keep them alive for eternity. You media people cannot understand because you’re so earthly-minded.”
“So that’s a yes?”
“Of course if the refugee is on the verge of dying, we give them nourishment. . . physical nourishment. But we do require them to read the Bible and attend our prayer meetings in order for them to stay under our care. That is because we care more about their souls.”
Upon hearing this, Eddie shifted in his seat uncomfortably and looked agitated. He could not see how effective this missionary could be in teaching the gospel while practicing such conditional love. Could sincere converts be gained with such ways? How is this policy different from Kim Jong Il’s indoctrination of ‘Believe in me or starve’? Surely this missionary’s policy could not be the majority viewpoint in China.
“I have another question in response to one of your earlier points. You said that converts have been sent back to N. Korea. Has this been voluntary? Do these refugees want to go back?”
“Oh yes!” exclaimed Sung Ho triumphantly. They want to bring back the gospel to their family and neighbors. They want them also to experience the love and hope of Christ in their hearts.”
“I have heard that refugees are tortured and even executed if they’re found to have been in contact with a missionary. Have you ever had any refugees who did not want to go back?”
“Some. But it is not because they’re afraid of being persecuted. For they all have been taught that Christians must suffer much to enter the kingdom of God. In any case, we need to thoroughly train them in the gospel before they’re sent back.”
“So while in hiding, these refugees are trained? For how long?”
“For much of the day. They have no where else to go.” Sung Ho blushed as if he said something unintended.
“How long are they . . .” Eddie began to ask but stopped in mid thought. Time to change the subject.
“Were there persecutions and dangers for the missionaries before the media attention?” Eddie asked abruptly.
“Certainly. But not nearly as heavily or as widespread as there is now.”
“I thought you said that Christians must suffer much to enter the kingdom of God. Isn’t this increased persecution for Christ’s sake, strangely enough, good for the Christian cause? Wasn’t it Tertullian who said that the Church is watered by the blood of the martyrs?”
Sung Ho was taken off guard. This media person quotes Tertullian?
“Every day we put our lives at risk for providing for and protecting these refugees. We bear suffering joyfully when it comes, and as you point out, it must come. But we do not invite suffering needlessly. There is a difference between bearing suffering and committing suicide!”
Eddie reflected upon that remarkably perceptive comment. He rebuked himself for caricaturing this missionary as a foolish zealot. Not only was Sung Ho sincere, he still had his common sense in tact. But could this be the spirit of the early Christians, the ‘fools for Christ’, the human candle sticks lighting Nero’s gardens?
“I understand you better,” said Eddie. “Now may I share with you my own convictions. You blame the media for hindering your noble work of sharing the gospel. But isn’t it possible that God has ordained the use of the media to make your roots grow deeper? That is, isn’t it possible that God has also ordained the work of establishing human rights in N. Korea? Wouldn’t God rather give these helpless N. Koreans the freedom, yes freedom, to love Him rather than force them to love Him by extortion! Please let me finish. In your pride, yes, I say pride, you consider your work incomparably superior to that of the secular media because your work is more ’spiritual.’ But I tell you, the media is God’s instrument as well. I come from the U.S. where the media was key to changing white people’s minds during the civil rights movement led by Black ministers. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was actually an increase in the number of lynchings, church burnings, and racial crimes as the media began to pay more attention. There were several ministers who argued as you do, that the way to get civil rights was by preaching the gospel alone. Getting the right to eat at a ‘white’s only’ restaurant would become a fruit of the gospel. But then there were the Martin Luther King Jrs. who recognized that God not only desired the salvation of individual souls, the Lord desired the sanctification of society as well!”
Sung Ho thought over the analogy. He seemed noticeably unmoved, even more firm in his position than before. So Eddie went on.
“Just this week, Gilsu’s family arrived safely in S. Korea. Why? Don’t you remember last year, when another group of seven refugees found their way to a Russian embassy seeking asylum but were deported back to N. Korea only to face imprisonment. The only reason that did not happen this time is because of the world-wide media focus. The world was watching, and China was self-conscious of this. You see, that is the power of the media – the ability to make evil doers self-conscious of their behavior. Missionaries pushing for human rights have always been easily dismissed as fanatical cults by these regimes (as Black ministers during the Civil Rights movement were dismissed as ‘agitators’). But they cannot so easily dismiss the BBC or the South China Morning Post. Do you really think Milosevic could have been extradited and tried as a war criminal without the media making the world self-conscious about leaving his atrocities go unpunished? Or the capture of Pol Pot, or the war crimes trials for Rwanda? The Lord has been using the media to raise the conscience of the world, constraining the behavior of leaders who would otherwise commit atrocities with impunity! Beijing is still reeling from the media exposure of Tiananmen Square. You missionaries must operate in hiding and you say that you can no longer operate with so much media attention. The sword cuts both ways! These tyrants must now commit their abuses in hiding, and I’m telling you,” Eddie began to plead earnestly with Sung Ho, “that it will be they who will no longer be able to abuse with impunity with so much media attention.”
Sung Ho up till now had looked upon Eddie with some suspicion. Now Sung Ho looked as if he wanted to be convinced, hoping against hope. There was a minute of silence.
“I am truly sorry for your suffering caused by the media,” Eddie began to say with feeling. “But we are also God’s ordained instrument on earth that cannot be defeated. Yes, we cannot be defeated. It is hopelessly absurd for these evil regimes to think that by increasing their persecutions in response to increased media attention that somehow the media will bring less focus or the world will pay less attention. On the contrary, the more they abuse, the more fuel they provide for the media fire, the more they justify our reporting! But wait!” Eddie said suddenly. “Let me correct myself. The media’s power is not fueled by Kim Jong Il’s abuses but by the missionaries and converts’ courage and sacrificial spirit and willingness to bear witness to the world of their undying love for Christ – and that is the original meaning of ‘martyr’ as I can see you already knew by your nodding. Kim Jong Il knows this and that is why he is trying to squelch you into silence and inactivity. He knows that once the missionaries and refugees were to bear witness to the world of their unbreakable courage and undying love strong enough to move the whole world’s conscience, that his freedom to abuse would be lost forever.”
“I have listened to your impassioned speech with great interest,” Sung Ho said nodding in agreement so he would be allowed to speak. “But I do not agree that the media cannot be defeated. The media itself cannot be trusted. It will defeat itself. Even with increased persecution and increased media attention, the world will become desensitized to our suffering. Besides, the world, especially America and S. Korea, do not want to know. They are too comfortable to want to know of our suffering. Further, inevitably the persecutions will become more hidden. Will reporters then go underground to get the story at the risk of their own lives? You shrug because you know the answer! Circulation will begin to drop, and news editors will push these articles based only on rumors further back until they’re no longer printed. Eddie, you put too much faith in people’s consciences and the media’s willingness to mobilize them.”
Eddie looked down and sighed. What Sung Ho said had too much truth to it to be denied outright.
“Apart from Islamic terrorists it seems, the martyr’s spirit has truly vanished from our post-modern world,” Eddie agreed. “It is a rare thing these days for anyone to demonstrate their full measure of devotion for the cause of truth.”
Their meeting ended late. They were both tired from frustration, and left for home. Along the way, Eddie and Sung Ho thought to themselves that they would both continue down the path that they were on, only with new found respect for the other’s opinion and with less confidence of their own.