SEOUL, South Korea (BP)–Christian leaders on the Korean Peninsula are calling for prayer as tensions escalate between North and South Korea.
A 1,200-ton South Korean warship, the Cheonan, sank March 26 after a North Korean submarine launched a torpedo attack, killing 46 South Korean sailors in one of the South’s worst military disasters since the 1950-53 Korean War. During her May visit to Seoul, South Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised the full support of the U.S. government as South Korea seeks U.N. sanctions against the North.
As the South Korean government weighs its response, political and military posturing is on the rise between the two countries. Amid the turmoil, a North Korean refugee is calling on South Korean Christians to join a prayer movement.
“We are praying that the leadership of both countries will have discernment, wisdom and patience,” said Thomas Parks*, a Christian worker based in South Korea.
While confrontations between North and South are not uncommon, Christian leaders agree that this latest incident is different from the past. Lewis Rho*, who heads a humanitarian organization that provides food assistance within the impoverished North, has seen many political and spiritual changes through the years. Rho believes the sinking of the Cheonan is to South Korea what 9/11 was to the United States.
“The way the South Korean government chooses to respond determines what happens next,” Rho said. “The important thing is that God is still in control. He still has a special plan and purpose for North Korea — whether regime change happens voluntarily or not.”
Foreign policy analysts believe North Korean President Kim Jong-Il may have ordered the attack to divert criticism from the country’s failing economy and to make way for his son, Kim Jong-Un, to assume power.
While little is known about the isolated country, Kim is thought to be in failing health. This instability of leadership coupled with a long-running economic crisis leads some to speculate that the totalitarian regime eventually will fail — perhaps sooner rather than later.
As a result, evangelical leaders are praying for South Korean Christians to be ready for the spiritual fallout resulting from North Korea’s potential collapse.
“I see a need for South Korean Christians to prepare themselves spiritually so that when North Korea does open, they will be ready to respond in Christ-like ways,” said Sterling Edwards*, a Christian worker based in Seoul.
Rho points out that the economic decline of the North was preceded by a spiritual decline. The South’s rise to prominence was preceded by spiritual revival.
“Because South Koreans lived with continuous insecurity, they learned to depend on God,” Rho said. “As a result, South Korea is blessed in abundance with churches and church leadership. Today, it is the second-largest missionary sending country in the world.”
Dan Armistead, pastor of Seoul International Baptist Church, said the rapid rise of Christianity in China combined with the strong evangelical presence in South Korea are indications that God is preparing Asian believers to lead the way in evangelism and church planting. The first step is for South Korean and Chinese Christians to focus their efforts on evangelizing the North, Armistead said.
“What is happening here is going to move this nation in that direction,” Armistead noted.
Parks agreed. “Spiritually, [South Korean] Christians are ready to evangelize North Koreans,” he said. “Quite a few mega-churches and conventions are prepared for that.”
“They are not only ready,” Armistead said, referencing their spiritual vigilance. “That would be an answer to prayer.”
*Names changed. Tess Rivers wrote this story for Baptist Press.
Pray for North and South Korea:
— That tension on the peninsula will result in greater spiritual openness in the North.
— That South Korean Christians and other Asian believers will respond in Christ-like ways in opportunities to reach the North.
— That the two countries will one day be unified under a system that brings glory and honor to God.