North Korea’s daily bread
The scent of jasmine washed over North Africa, the Gulf States and Asia during 2011, but will 2012 bring the smell of freshly cooked dough to North Korea?
A small bakery run by Christians in a city in North Korea is hoping to make a difference. According to Barnabas Fund, the bakery (which cannot be named) is providing food for hungry youth, Christian and non-Christian, and giving bread rolls away free to children aged 4-13, in local schools.
Barnabas Fund provides money for this ministry, to purchase flour, fuel and other resources for the bakery, as well as paying the wages of the staff.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is in desperate need. The strict communist regime oversees a population cut off from the rest of the world, and shockingly poor, thanks to the extravagant excesses of former ‘dear leader’ Kim Jong-il.
Most people do not have nearly enough daily bread and many die of starvation. Hundreds of thousands have been reduced to eating grass.
Religious activity is controlled and Christianity particularly feared, because of its emphasis on freedom and a divine ‘heavenly Father’, and its ideas of equality in the sight of God — all seditious in a nation where 25 million people must worship their human leaders.
Although there are reports that 400,000 Christians live in North Korea, believers are under constant threat of imprisonment, torture or execution. Indeed, in May 2010, three leaders of an underground church were executed and 20 Christians sent to a prison labour camp following a raid on a house.
Any hopes of political change because of ‘dear leader’s’ death seem to have been dashed. Late in December 2011, the new 28-year-old supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, said South Korea and its allies should not expect the North’s direction and policy to ‘change course’.
It was his first official message, issued by the National Defence Commission, top governing body under the previous leader.
Reports from Associated Press also quoted the commission as stating: ‘On this occasion, we solemnly declare with confidence that foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet forces in South Korea, should not expect any changes from us’.
The South Korean government, under President Lee Myung-bak, has pursued a tough stance against its northern neighbour, refusing to engage and offer no-strings-attached aid.
Little surprise that further ‘missile testing’ near South Korean waters was carried out within days of Kim Jong-il’s demise.
North Korea, the world’s most militarised nation, has millions of active service personnel but it is considered the least stable nation. So these latest declarations from Kim Jong-un have left many world politicians concerned, even those who have historically supported his regime.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev held talks with Kim Jong-il last August. In these the former leader agreed to put a ‘moratorium’ on nuclear testing while talks continued. However, Russia’s influence over the new leader may be less effective.
The present situation between the North and South goes back to Soviet and US military involvement following the Second World War.
In 1945 Korea was divided into Soviet- and American-occupied zones. In 1948 the North refused to participate in a UN-supervised election held in the south. This led to the creation of separate Korean governments for the two occupation zones.
The North and South each claimed sovereignty over the whole peninsula, which escalated into the Korean War of 1950-1953. The armistice agreement of 1953 ended the fighting, but the two countries are officially still at war with a peace treaty never signed.
With this history of long enmity, as well as a fear of Christianity’s ‘destabilising’ influence and years of brainwashing of its impoverished people, it is unsurprising that charity Release International has highlighted North Korea as a persecution hotspot for Christians during 2012.
Throughout 2011, Release ran its major ‘One Day’ campaign, pressing for change in North Korea. It collated a petition of more than 40,000 names which was presented to the embassy in London at the start of 2012.
Release chief executive Andy Dipper said, ‘Pray that instead of instability, transition in North Korea will prove to be a decisive moment and lead to change for the better.
‘Pray for stability, peace and freedom — especially freedom of faith, in this land where a form of emperor worship has been imposed for so long; and pray for wisdom and righteousness for North Korea’s young new ruler, Kim Jong-un’.
So what can one ‘underground’ Christian bakery do?
What were the words of the apostle Paul? ‘A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough’ (1 Corinthians 5:6). While he was referring to bad doctrine influencing a church, it is also true as a general principle that a little with God can become plenty — a little godly ‘yeast’ can influence a community or nation for enormous good.
Besides which, there is only one ‘supreme leader’, Jesus. He has already defeated the powers of darkness and says, ‘In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).
Pray for Christians in North Korea to be fed with daily bread. And, as they receive, may they be able to share with others. It could just be that 2012 will be the year when a small baking ministry heralded a breakthrough in the world’s most closed nation.