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FIRST-PERSON: The ‘Jerusalem of the East’

SEOUL, South Korea (BP)–On the banks of the Tumen River, along an isolated stretch of a road, I prayed with a South Korean friend and others who joined in a prayerwalk along the border with North Korea.

As tears filled our eyes, we prayed for this divided land. We prayed for those isolated by a regime that persecutes Christians and denies even the most basic human rights. We prayed for those who are starving and impoverished by a system that cannot feed its people. We prayed for brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles separated for more than 60 years. We prayed that one day we might enter North Korea freely and proclaim boldly the message of salvation in Jesus’ name. We prayed for the unification of North and South Korea under a system that brings glory and honor to God. We prayed for an end to the suffering.

As we prayed, I grasped the faithfulness, fervency and passion that drive South Korean Christians to their knees. South Korean believers know how to pray! Many gather early in the morning to begin their day with prayer. Others regularly trek to one of the many “prayer mountains” dotting the countryside. Korean colleagues and friends often prayerwalk their neighborhoods and areas of ministry — wherever they are in the world.

South Koreans believe that prayer is the catalyst and the sustenance of every significant spiritual effort. Perhaps it is this fervency that elevated them from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War to a place of international prominence — economically, politically and spiritually.

I believe God has a special plan for the Korean Peninsula. Christianity first came to Korea more than 100 years ago. Then in the early 1900s, revival began within a men’s prayer group based in Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea. From that moment, Korean Christians saw themselves in a new way, with a special calling to take Christianity into China and other parts of Asia. They dubbed Pyongyang “the Jerusalem of the East.”

Then the Japanese occupation of 1910 brought Shinto Buddhism and persecution to the new Christians on the peninsula. My South Korean friends and historical accounts tell me that Christian leaders faced a dilemma. Should they bow every day to the Japanese emperor and the Shinto idols or face persecution, prison and even death for failing to do so? Some Christian leaders instructed their followers to bow to the emperor, claiming that it was not necessarily an act of idolatry but of patriotism. Sadly, within that generation, war came to the peninsula; the country was divided and the “Jerusalem of the East” became the capital city of the world’s most isolated and oppressive regime.

My friends recognize God’s justice in these historical events. They also grasp His mercy. They repented for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers, and now South Korea is the second-largest missionary-sending country in the world. For years now, they have been taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Today, as tensions escalate on the Korean Peninsula, South Korean Christians pray for unification of their country with a renewed passion, believing that the days of the exile are nearing an end. They are ready for the spiritual ramifications if North Korea’s current regime falls. As they’ve taken the Gospel to countries around the world, they are ready to take the Gospel to the North. They are ready to reclaim the “Jerusalem of the East” in Jesus’ name.
Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board living in Southeast Asia.

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  • Tess Rivers