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Missionaries in North Korea: is this becoming a thing?


Mercer

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7 hours ago, Jingerbread said:

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.

I don't think we actually disagree here. :)

What I was saying is that local people have the right to personally practice their religion as they see fit even if it poses a risk to themselves because their lives are their own to risk, but other people should not be collateral damage.  I also specified local religious practitioners in my statement, and expressed my concern  and misgivings about foreign missionaries.

It may just be semantics because of course there are other issues that could arise that I didn't address with local religious practice too if it becomes violent, extremist, or prescriptive... but that's kind of a different topic.

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I wouldn't be surprised if this is becoming a thing.  For years, serving as a missionary to "closed countries" (anywhere Christianity isn't legal - usually China or Middle East) has been popular. The missionaries are often called tentmakers because they have another job in addition to church work.  They will generally enter the country under the guise of teaching, healthcare, or relief work, and then witness to others in their "off" hours. I've encountered folks like this from a wide variety of church traditions - everything from liberal mainliners to Quiverfull fundies.

I actually had a good friend from my old church who married a tentmaker missionary and spent 10 years in a closed country with him. From her, I saw that their agency at least provided lots of training and they had to read about the culture, learn about how to avoid endangering other people, etc...  They weren't in a place as dangerous as N. Korea, but it was still pretty darn forbidding.

I really do hope that folks going to N.Korea are getting good training because it seems like some of the tentmakers go in with their eyes wide open to the dangers around them, but others(especially some of the bloggers I've stumbled on) seem pretty naive.

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34 minutes ago, GenerationCedarchip said:

I really do hope that folks going to N.Korea are getting good training because it seems like some of the tentmakers go in with their eyes wide open to the dangers around them, but others(especially some of the bloggers I've stumbled on) seem pretty naive.

These particular families didn't seem to have a clue. They understood that you shouldn't outright say what you're doing while at a public gathering, but their "code" was so transparent that pretty much anyone could have figured out what they were hinting at. The written materials and support letters they had were the same way, so I don't think it's just that they felt they had a safe audience.

I got the feeling that they were paying lip service to the danger, but the bottom line was they were having fun playing at being spies for Jesus and having secret codes, and they weren't really internalizing or giving any deep thought to what they were risking, for other people as well as themselves. 

They didn't mention an affiliation with any missions organization, which makes me think they were probably going it alone. I think that even if they were told to leave the name out of it, they would have at least hinted they had a connection. So while I don't know for sure, I suspect both families are the missionary equivalent of freelancers. They also didn't mention receiving any sort of training.

One of the families is Catholic, and the other is from a very mainstream Presbyterian congregation where the other members seem openly baffled by the family's actions.

The one plus side of their lack of discretion about what to keep to themselves is they're unlikely to fool the immigration authorities if they didn't manage to fool, say, the other guests at a baby shower. I just hope the worst that happens is that they get turned away.

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I'm surprised they felt they had to speak in code when they were with you at home. Typically my experience is that they speak rather freely about pretty much anything at home, and when they are there, they limit their words.

Of course, the people I know have served through organizations, and receive intensive training. But they'll pretty much tell you where they're going (to the region of a country, not exact city), the profession they'll do while they're there, how they plan to evangelize. Plus usually when people are connected with an org, they will share that so that you know they are legit and have a way to contact them through secure channels. 

Your experience with these families just smells weird to me :/

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5 hours ago, blessalessi said:

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.

Idiots trying to play Cool Martyred Missionaries in North Korea: God help us! We've been caught by the North Korean authorities and they're going to lock us up in prison! Please help us, God!

God: I sent you dipshits like thirty separate signs telling you not to go to North Korea. Did you listen to Me? And besides, I can't help you anyway because I have to help a Duggar girl pick out a wedding dress, and then I need to tell Steve Maxwell to order a pizza.

I really do wonder how bogged down the US Consulate in Shenyang and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang are with cases involving dumbasses like these "missionaries".

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Both of these experiences were at events where they didn't know all the participants, not in a home, for the record. One family is related to me but that side of the family doesn't really see each other except at larger gatherings, and the other goes to church with a relative of mine.

Now that you mention it, though, that does seem weird that they bothered to use code at all. Like I said, my impression was they were having fun using the code.

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51 minutes ago, GenerationCedarchip said:

I wouldn't be surprised if this is becoming a thing.  For years, serving as a missionary to "closed countries" (anywhere Christianity isn't legal - usually China or Middle East) has been popular.

I'm not surprised either. When I was young I asked some missionaries that came to visit on furlough why it was ok for them to lie to officials in China. I was quite young and didn't get why that was an offensive question. I got in so much trouble for asking and got no answer. There were a lot of stories going around back then about how God was blessing all the missionaries by 'closing the officials ears and eyes' to all the illegal stuff missionaries were doing. I always found it weird as to why they would be proud of their illegal actions.

I do know that there was a group of missionaries who felt that it was safer for them to go into closed countries to preach the gospel than it was for the locals to do it which justified (for them) the need to go.
 

6 minutes ago, Mercer said:

Now that you mention it, though, that does seem weird that they bothered to use code at all. Like I said, my impression was they were having fun using the code.

I know of some short term mission groups that use code all the time. The only people who are allowed to know the location/country are the ones going themselves( not even the parents/siblings of the attendees are allowed to be informed). If someone finds out then you're off the team. I guess one year they might have had problems because I don't know why they are so secretive otherwise.

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Well, seems like they want to experience what it's like to be really persecuted for your faith.

Communist countries aren't hesitant when it comes to putting people into gulags or killing them.

However, I highly doubt that any American could even attempt to be a "missionary" in North Korea, if they manage getting into the country in the first place, the governments henchmen spy on foreign visitors to an extent where they can't make three steps without being monitored, any contact to "regular" locals is also banned. Seriously, if anyone manages to pull off being a missionary there without the government noticing for only a few days and comes home alive, the CIA should use them to infiltrate Daesh.

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17 hours ago, Mary C Doates said:

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).

I had an opportunity to meet Suki Kim and hear her speak about her experience in NK. I've also studied the entire region as part of my degree program. 

Stupid doesn't even begin to describe these people. 

I do remember hearing of people being executed in NK in Voice of the Martyrs.  I'm not sure if they were just citizens or if they were missionaries. I honestly don't know how these people plan to even convert people, they won't have a chance for one on one conversations with anyone and in the off chance that they do it's unlikely that whoever they speak to will be receptive and not basically snitch on them.

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1 hour ago, Mercer said:

 

They didn't mention an affiliation with any missions organization, which makes me think they were probably going it alone. I think that even if they were told to leave the name out of it, they would have at least hinted they had a connection. So while I don't know for sure, I suspect both families are the missionary equivalent of freelancers. They also didn't mention receiving any sort of training.

One of the families is Catholic, and the other is from a very mainstream Presbyterian congregation where the other members seem openly baffled by the family's actions.

 

Yeah, that sounds seriously sketchy. I've known or read about quite a few tentmakers, but all had the backing of an organization or at least of a home church.

I got curious because I was wondering how a tentmaker would get into a place as closed off as N. Korea in the first instance, and I found this article. It's a couple years old, but still a very interesting read:

 

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2013/11/christian_missionaries_in_north_korea_inside_the_front_companies_christians.html

 

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1 hour ago, OnceUponATime said:

There were a lot of stories going around back then about how God was blessing all the missionaries by 'closing the officials ears and eyes' to all the illegal stuff missionaries were doing. I always found it weird as to why they would be proud of their illegal actions.

I remember this from my teen years. In the UK there was a lot of interest in Brother Andrew from Open Doors.  Persecution was highly prized among those missionaries, I always thought. They always seemed to be trying to one-up each other with stories of arrests and police interrogations, in which God miraculously saved the day. :my_dodgy:

http://www.opendoorsuk.org/

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The whole "code" thing annoys me. They just enjoy acting like super secret spies even when they're not in actual danger. I've known a lot of missionaries who would be intentionally vague and speak in code even when they're at home with friends.

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http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2014/10/31/months-bible-n-korea-local-man-says-worth/18272435/

 

This guy left a Bible in a restaurant bathroom, was caught and served 6 months, with the potential of 15 years in prison in North Korea.  Thanks to Sweden's diplomats, he got a relatively light sentence. Despite the bible being found immediately and likely turned in immediately, he somehow thinks he was successful.

Quote

He knows the price he paid for his faith was high. He knows his family paid a price as well. But he believes all people deserve to have access to the Christian faith. "Maybe one Bible can do a lot of good."     

Except, it didn't.  The bible was turned in immediately, his tour guide was pulled into the whole thing and had to question the group, it is likely everyone he had contact with was questioned and likely every stop they made on their tour came under scrutiny to see if he left other bibles in other locations. So, one Bible went from his hands into the hands of the authorities cost him and his family (and his church, who helped support his family) money, time, etc.  It cost the USA and Sweden some kind of diplomatic favors, and we will never know if it cost any NK citizens anything other than scrutiny.  

 

 

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1 hour ago, GenerationCedarchip said:

I got curious because I was wondering how a tentmaker would get into a place as closed off as N. Korea in the first instance, and I found this article. It's a couple years old, but still a very interesting read:

 

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2013/11/christian_missionaries_in_north_korea_inside_the_front_companies_christians.html

 

Thanks for posting this article. It helped me understand some things that I am now pretty sure I misunderstood while talking to them.

I hadn't realized there was an organized movement of "front" agencies, so I assumed they would have to talk their way into working for a legitimate development organization and use false pretenses with their employer too. After reading the article, I'm pretty sure their cover job is the sending organization, and that they talked about that instead of mentioning a missionary organization because it was actually the same thing. That makes so much more sense.

I also didn't realize that a "vision trip" was something organized that you could sign up for. I thought it just meant arranging a vacation to the place. I now wonder if maybe the reason both families were acting the same way is they are using the same organization. That's baseless speculation on my part, but it would make sense.

49 minutes ago, Rachel333 said:

The whole "code" thing annoys me. They just enjoy acting like super secret spies even when they're not in actual danger. I've known a lot of missionaries who would be intentionally vague and speak in code even when they're at home with friends.

YES! That is exactly what they were doing! "Super secret spies" indeed.Thanks for describing it so well.

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1 hour ago, Mercer said:

Thanks for posting this article. It helped me understand some things that I am now pretty sure I misunderstood while talking to them.

I hadn't realized there was an organized movement of "front" agencies, so I assumed they would have to talk their way into working for a legitimate development organization and use false pretenses with their employer too. After reading the article, I'm pretty sure their cover job is the sending organization, and that they talked about that instead of mentioning a missionary organization because it was actually the same thing. That makes so much more sense.

I also didn't realize that a "vision trip" was something organized that you could sign up for. I thought it just meant arranging a vacation to the place. I now wonder if maybe the reason both families were acting the same way is they are using the same organization. That's baseless speculation on my part, but it would make sense.

YES! That is exactly what they were doing! "Super secret spies" indeed.Thanks for describing it so well.

These front organizations are doing actual harm to legitimate aid efforts in North Korea. I am all for religious freedom in North Korea, but food and medical care come higher on the list of needs than religion. What these Super Secret Spies for Jeebus are doing is making the North Korean government suspicious that ALL aid organizations are fronts for missionaries who want to feel like Jesus Bond. Stop horning in on actual aid efforts and potentially sabotaging them just so you can jack off to your White Savior fantasies.

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14 minutes ago, nastyhobbitses said:

These front organizations are doing actual harm to legitimate aid efforts in North Korea. I am all for religious freedom in North Korea, but food and medical care come higher on the list of needs than religion. What these Super Secret Spies for Jeebus are doing is making the North Korean government suspicious that ALL aid organizations are fronts for missionaries who want to feel like Jesus Bond. Stop horning in on actual aid efforts and potentially sabotaging them just so you can jack off to your White Savior fantasies.

This! The end result is that innocent North Koreans receive less aid. But I guess those missionaries don't actually care about helping people. They just care about feeling Godly.

 

 

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6 minutes ago, warriorblade8857 said:

This! The end result is that innocent North Koreans receive less aid. But I guess those missionaries don't actually care about helping people. They just care about feeling Godly.

 

 

And the thing is, I think they really could do good if they'd quit jacking off to themselves. They COULD:

Provide covert support to existing North Korean secret religious groups who are fully willing to take the risks involved and are prepared to face the consequences if it comes to that, not just foist Bibles on people who have no idea what you're doing and are not prepared or willing to go to a prison camp just for accepting a gift from a foreigner

Just become actual aid workers and spread God's love simply by helping downtrodden people

Volunteer with or donate to organizations in South Korea that help defectors adjust to their new lives

Spread the stories of defectors to raise awareness of the repression of Christians (and lots, LOTS of other people) in North Korea

But none of that would stroke their egos and help them feel like they're oh so Godly.

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1 hour ago, warriorblade8857 said:

This! The end result is that innocent North Koreans receive less aid. But I guess those missionaries don't actually care about helping people. They just care about feeling Godly.

 

 

I feel like that is the case for some, at least many of those we snark on.  They are "called to be a missionary" and then scurry around to find a path to follow within that career path-- print brochures, sing and dance, dig wells, save souls as the ultimate fall back.  I know secular or at least not salvation based mission organizations who have goals that include getting clean water to people, or toilets/sewers or education or various health care initiatives and these may or may not be part of soul winning, but they start with the objective of helping, then work from there.  It seems a lot of the people we follow do just want to be a missionary and then make up what that entails as they go along.

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Am I the only one who thinks think we should send all our adult fundie missionaries there? 

        Jason Bourne of th fundie world.

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Suki Kim's book is well worth a read, although she certainly makes it sound like the missionaries were there with the complete support of the North Korean government, who were aware of their religions. She does say they were not allowed to talk about religion (amoung many other things) with the kids. At the time she was there, her university was the only one in the DPRK opperating.

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On 12/11/2015 at 11:26 PM, artdecades said:

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.

 

But then they'll cry persecution(if they're not dead) and fox news will blame Obama. You hardly see missionaries in certain countries. People in poor countries in Africa and Latin America are easier to manipulate

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This reminds me of two Italian girls (20ish) that last year went to Syria to establish a sort of ong that they created to help in a refugee camp. Basically they went on their own with no organisation in a war torn country.  IIRC they were kidnapped after two weeks and Italian government had to pay many millions of euros for a ransom that basically went to finance trouble. If I were you I'd alert the department of state.

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Stupid stupid stupid. These folks have no idea what they are getting themselves into. Have they even talked to anyone who has had travel experience to NK?

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