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Missionaries in North Korea: is this becoming a thing?


Mercer

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In the past couple of months I've come into contact with two different families who are planning to be missionaries in North Korea, which I hadn't really heard of anyone doing before. One of them was in the logistics process of their move, and the other one was raising money for a "vision trip," which appears to be a vacation to the place you are planning to be a missionary to see if you actually like it before you commit. 

The families (and their relatives stateside following their secrecy instructions) described it as going to "Northern Asia" and seemed to think they were being very sneaky, but the descriptions were so thinly veiled that it was pretty obvious where they were going. Like, "They'll be flying to Seoul and then going on to... *dramatic pause*... their destination!" As if 1.) The North Korean authorities were lurking at an American baby shower, but 2.) they somehow wouldn't be able to figure out what we were talking about if the specific words weren't said, like saying the name of Voldemort or something, no matter how transparent the discussion.

In both cases, their plan was to obtain visas under the guise of working on government-approved development projects, and then start proselytizing once they got established there.

I found this pretty worrisome. Of course I fully support the freedom of all people to practice their religion; local North Korean Christians have a much better understanding than I do of exactly the risks they are taking, and it's not for me to say what they should or shouldn't do. What I worry about is the collateral damage from outsider missionaries who don't really have the level of knowledge needed to navigate the situation, and thus are in danger of dragging others into the issue without their consent. For example, what happens if they get members of a congregation in trouble through some naive faux pas? What about the landlords, drivers, grocery deliverers, etc. who are interacting with them without being aware they're supporting non-permitted proselytizing? What about aid workers and development personnel who are trying to go through the legal channels to help but risk being tarred with the same brush if it's discovered that some Americans are being dishonest about their motives on their visa applications? In both cases, the families have minor children. In one family the kids are under ten. How are children expected to figure out how to deal with this situation, and what happens to them if the house of cards collapses?

I got the impression that this was basically a game to these families. They were having fun with the "secrecy" and the white savior fantasies, and they don't fully seem to grasp how badly people could get hurt.

Has anyone else heard of this happening? Or was it just coincidence that I met two within a fairly short span of time?

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I've never heard of it before, but I guess it wouldn't shock me. It just sounds like a quick way to potentially get themselves, their families, and a lot of innocent North Koreans in trouble -- not to mention endanger whatever strides legitimate aid workers there are making, as you already said. Hopefully they're all talk and won't actually make it there. 

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I hope that too. One of the families claimed to have travel arrangements made and seemed confident of visa approval (not sure if the documents were in hand or still in process,) but I don't really know them at all and it's entirely possible they were exaggerating where they were in the process.

The other family seemed to be having trouble raising the money they needed, so hopefully wiser heads will prevail there.

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Why would you go to North Korea? As highly controlled as that country is, I doubt being a missionary there is even allowed. They are strict rules for every single thing a person does. Didn't they detain missionary there awhile back? Are they aware they will likely be arrested and then call for the US to get them released? Do they think it will be like going to El Salvador? You can't just plop down in North Korea and start a new life. 

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I get what they're trying to accomplish, but I think it's kind of shitty of them to take their young children with them into a country like North Korea. Those kinds of missions (if they absolutely must be done :pb_rollseyes:) should be undertaken by singles, childless couples, and people whose kids have already moved out. This is just insanity.

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18 minutes ago, socalrules said:

As highly controlled as that country is, I doubt being a missionary there is even allowed. They are strict rules for every single thing a person does.

It's not allowed. They're joining development projects (one was engineering-related, the other medical if I recall correctly) and obtaining visas as development workers, then they're planning to start proselytizing once they get settled in.

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I think this has been a "thing" for a while, although the missionaries may be there in the guise of teachers or other professionals. Suki Kim's book, Without you there is no us, is about her experience as a teacher associated with a religious group (she herself was not religious).

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More than one person has been imprisoned for religious proselytizing in North Korea, and it has required a lot of State Department resources to get them released. But, oh, the opportunity to scream "persecution!" Is so worth it.

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Were Kennedy (engaged to Andrew Morton) and her family doing mission work in North or South Korea?

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owning a bible can be a death sentence to a north Korean. one idiot was sending them in on helium balloons or hot air balloons. someone picks it up no clue what it is can die for it. I hate missionaries that force faith on others. the yahveh destroyed countless lives and culture and traditions and made poverty a much bigger problem. 

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If these idiots want to get themselves killed by messing with NK, go ahead, but they should never bring children into that environment. Ugh, and then they will get arrested and put in camps they can cry about martyrdom.

 

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3 hours ago, doggie said:

owning a bible can be a death sentence to a north Korean. one idiot was sending them in on helium balloons or hot air balloons. someone picks it up no clue what it is can die for it. I hate missionaries that force faith on others. the yahveh destroyed countless lives and culture and traditions and made poverty a much bigger problem. 

I was just about to say that they are going to get people killed.  They even punish the extended families of "criminals".  I can see someone trying to be polite and end up with cousins three timed removed going to medical experiments because of it.

please turn them in.  Seriously.

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1 hour ago, OodOnTheLoo said:

I was just about to say that they are going to get people killed.  They even punish the extended families of "criminals".  I can see someone trying to be polite and end up with cousins three timed removed going to medical experiments because of it.

please turn them in.  Seriously.

I think they punish three generations of family by sending them to work camps.  It's very likely these jerks will have "minders" to constantly watch them.  They won't be allowed to roam around at will.  If they try anything under those circumstances, they are particularly stupid.  I hope they read some of the books by defectors.  This isn't the kind of place where you can get by with things.  They send officials to pick you up and you are gone.  As Americans, they will just be used by the latest Kim incarnation as some sort of pawn or propaganda piece to extract whatever he wants until he feels like setting them free.  If he sets them free.

The likely scenario is that the whole project could be in question. Locals could be killed for listening to this or having bibles. At worst, three generations of their family could be sent to work camps to be worked to death.  Other people in the organization could be at risk.  I really hope they don't do this.  They are welcome to martyr themselves. No sympathy there. But it's really not fair to the other people.  If it's not a religious organization, don't they usually require the workers to say they won't proselytize for these very reasons?

i have noticed these secret "destinations" on mission websites.  I don't think most of these people know how to be subtle.

 

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If they think they'd get sympathy for being arrested and harshly punished, they're wrong.  There won't be much pity for adults who commit fraud, which is what they're doing by getting one visa for the purpose of doing something illegal there, and get arrested, especially in a country so tightly controlled that even the outcome of soccer games are edited and revised so that the team the dictator wants to win wins.  It's a crime to sing music that doesn't glorify Kim.  If those idiots get themselves arrested, I hope everything is done for the kids to be brought back to the US, but that the adults are left to rot for their willingness to get people in NK hurt or killed.

7 hours ago, Mercer said:

I found this pretty worrisome. Of course I fully support the freedom of all people to practice their religion; local North Korean Christians have a much better understanding than I do of exactly the risks they are taking, and it's not for me to say what they should or shouldn't do. What I worry about is the collateral damage from outsider missionaries who don't really have the level of knowledge needed to navigate the situation, and thus are in danger of dragging others into the issue without their consent.

Please rethink this.  You've heard how gay people are killed in Uganda?  That's a direct result of American missionaries going there and preaching the bible and anti-gay rhetoric.  At best, they're trying to destroy the local culture and customs by replacing it with Christianity, which shouldn't be supported, and at worst, innocent people die.  Watch God Loves Uganda, if you have Netflix.  People should be supported for practicing their religions for themselves, but they shouldn't be supported when that practice means involving other unrelated people who haven't shown an interest on their own, like missionaries going into African countries and preaching hate disguised as love.

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Some people really seem to be wanting to become martyrs! That is putting other people in danger! How can one be so heartless and not care if they are getting people killed. Is it really more important that people are Christian than that they´re alive?!

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I'd say that they're free to go and let Darwin handle things from there, but they're also putting any North Korean they so much as make eye contact with in actual mortal danger. Plus, not to mention, those North Koreans' families down to their grandchildren. Read about the camps they send "state enemies" to. It's like Auschwitz. Except at least at Auschwitz, with the gas chambers you had an opportunity for a (relatively) quick death. No such luck at North Korea's camps.

These people are selfish idiots who will be able to count every blessing in the book if the only thing that happens to them is deportation. They'll never give a thought to the Swedish Embassy and US State Department officials who will have to spend untold amounts of tax dollars and manpower to ensure halfway good treatment from North Korean officials. And of course, they'll never give a thought to the locals they doomed to concentration and torture camps just by associating with them. Selfish, selfish people.

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I feel the same way about these so-called "missionaries" as I do about people who refuse to evacuate when told to in advance of hurricanes and whatnot. If you choose to ignore the obvious—especially going into a country and violating its laws, no matter how wrong those laws are—and find yourself in a bad situation, don't start crying for the government to rescue your sorry ass, whether its from the roof of your house that's under water or from a North Korean prison. You pays your money, you takes your chances. Sometimes you might win, but most of the time, you lose. But don't ever, EVER, put an innocent party in danger as well through your stupidity.

 

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4 hours ago, Iamhispurity said:

Some people really seem to be wanting to become martyrs! That is putting other people in danger! How can one be so heartless and not care if they are getting people killed. Is it really more important that people are Christian than that they´re alive?!

It is just this.  Entitled martyrdom.  I can put other lives at risk if I want, because Jesus. 

If tragedy happens to others I suspect that the "God is good, all the time" line will be trotted out.  If they get into trouble then they will expect God to work through the foreign Embassy to bail them out.

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13 hours ago, socalrules said:

Why would you go to North Korea? As highly controlled as that country is, I doubt being a missionary there is even allowed. They are strict rules for every single thing a person does. Didn't they detain missionary there awhile back? Are they aware they will likely be arrested and then call for the US to get them released? Do they think it will be like going to El Salvador? You can't just plop down in North Korea and start a new life. 

I would think South Koreans would be a better missionary choice to North Korea, if they could get in, because S. Korea does send missionaries out to various parts of the world.  Not that there would be less risk involved for a S. Korean but I would tend to believe there would be more caution taken, given that they probably understand more about the culture, the language, and the current events happening there.  They also wouldn't stick out like sore thumbs on a daily basis like American missionaries would.  Ugh...can you imagine John Shrader in N. Korea with his entourage?

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The codes and secrecy about missions to foreign countries is definitely ongoing. They send the codes to families to teach how to communicate with the missionaries while they're abroad. Obviously you can't really google those since it's a safety issue, buuuut they exist. 

Meanwhile, and slightly OT, The Very Worst Missionary blows open the bullshit behind missionary language as it's used to exploit churches: http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2013/05/deciphering-missions.html

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