North Korean standoff prompts ministry call to action

North Korea (MNN) — North Korea is showing off the strength of its military, rallying its citizens, and sending a message to the rest of the world:  “Don’t mess with us.  We will fight back.”

North Korea (Photo courtesy of John Pavelka via Flickr)

The country is working toward an armament sophisticated enough to manage nuclear retaliation in a war.  At least, that’s what was intended in Sunday’s show of strength, which embarrassed the regime when the missile blew up on launch.  It did succeed in one area: provocation.

Calls for diplomacy have grown into a global chorus in an effort to stave off what would be a costly and deadly conflagration.  However, North Korea remains defiant, says Alpha Relief’s Director at Global Advance, Ben Gabriel.  “North Korea, as a governmental entity, cares not for its people.  The implementation of technology and things that they’re trying to advance in is very military-focused and very much toward what they can present to the world.”

At what cost?  North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un is also faced with a humanitarian food crisis.  The United Nations estimates that two in five people are malnourished.  Seventy percent of the population relies on food aid.  Their report also noted that most North Koreans also lacked access to basic healthcare or sanitation.

Gabriel says, “The question is, how we respond to that?  How do we, as Christians, perceive these global situations in relation to the advance of the Gospel?”  We must ask, ‘How can we help the people?’

(Photo courtesy of Alpha Relief/Global Advance)

The answer to that question is complicated by the politics.  China has the ability to put pressure on Pyongyang and bring them in line.  However, recent efforts to get North Korea to even meet its nuclear envoy have been ignored.  There have also been hints at China’s patience is ebbing with the reclusive regime, but regardless of the snubs, it’s unlikely there will be a rift in the bilateral relationship.

Gabriel explains, “China does not want South Korea on its border because, in a sense, that means the United States is on its border.  So they almost see North Korea as a buffer zone for themselves and are willing to maintain that.”  It’s also in North Korea’s best interest to keep China pacified.  “A lot of aid that goes into North Korea flows through China and through the semi-open economic border between China and North Korea.”

The border between North and South Korea is a Demilitarized Zone.  If China puts border pressure on North Korea to shape up, Gabriel says things will get really convoluted.  “How do we continue to support North Koreans and their work if we end up with a closed border on both sides?”  Alpha Relief, the humanitarian arm of Global Advance, has a two-tiered approach to support for the underground Church in North Korea.

First, they work with Christians on the ground to distribute aid and basic needs.  They also are focused on Gospel advancement through supplying God’s Word.  The second bit gets tricky, as “it is extremely dangerous to have Bibles in North Korea.  If you’re caught with the Bible, it could mean a death sentence or at least a prison camp sentence.  But, how do we grow in our relationship with the Lord without His Word?”

Specifics on the operations couldn’t be shared for that reason, but Gabriel says, “We have to continue coming up with creative ways because the government starts catching on and starts tamping down on ways that we are able to get the Bible in through different smuggling operations — that’s one thing.  Then the other is those that are able to come out, to disciple them, train them up, and those that really are committed and really buy into life in Christ, to go back and disciple the Church in North Korea.”

(Photo courtesy of Alpha Relief/Global Advance)

Another way Alpha Relief helps is through safe houses, says Gabriel.  “Oftentimes, it’s been a traumatizing event that has caused them to leave, that has triggered their desperate dash for the border.  So [we work] to rehabilitate them, introduce them to the Gospel, if they’re not Christians already, and then help continue them on the journey.”

He explains that for those who do want to come out of North Korea, they have to get past China.  It’s very much a ‘rescue operation’.  Once out, they have to have a place to hide until they can get to South Korea, he says, but the first step is these safe houses on the frontier.

“If North Koreans are caught in China by the Chinese authorities, they are sent back.  If they’ve been in China for some time, then you have kids that have been born in China.  Their kids are left, and China won’t care for their kids.”  Alpha Relief also supports foster care for these children.

The reality is Alpha Relief partners are doing very dangerous work.  However, if we want to be Kingdom and Gospel people, then that needs to be our primary focus, says Gabriel, not fear.  “We want to make sure we have a level mind, a level head about it, in understanding how the Gospel is advancing, and then find a way to get involved.”

And of course, pray, he says.  “That’s why we need to be informed, so we know how to pray.  Pray for these people, pray for their safety and also pray for their provision and that the Gospel would continue to advance there.”

Click here for more about Alpha Relief and North Korea.