More than ever, North Korea stands alone.
It looks out over Northern Asia – proud, defiant, solitary-like the statue of its late "Great Leader," Kim Il Sung, towering over Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.
But Kim's statue has an outstretched arm. After generations of self-imposed communist isolation, North Korea also is beginning to reach out. The nation is cracking open under the pressure of changing times and the enormous human suffering caused by recent natural calamities.
A look at the current context of North Korea reveals a communist state with virtually no access to the gospel of Christ. Pyongyang once was known as the "Jerusalem of the East;" more than 1,000 churches thrived in the north. Today, only two Protestant churches – both in the capital – operate openly. Atheism is official doctrine, and North Koreans are taught to revere the late leader Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, as all-knowing national fathers.
The other pressing reality: massive physical need caused by years of drought and flooding, soil erosion, and crop loss. Up to 2 million North Koreans have died of hunger and related diseases since 1995, according to some estimates.
The 1999 Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization, scheduled from 6 p.m. Friday, May 21, to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 22 will focus on the more than 22 million people of North Korea.
U.S. military veteran Ken Dupuy has learned the power of God's amazing love for North Korea. He once fought North Koreans as enemies. Now he ministers to them as friends through humanitarian relief projects.
Intercessory prayer, too, is "an act of love," says Dupuy. "The more you are involved in it, the greater the love you have, and the greater the capacity for love you have."
Each year, Randy Sprinkle, director of the International Prayer Strategy Office, joins IMB colleagues in seeking God's leading toward the Last Frontier people group – among thousands worldwide – that should be the focus of the annual day of prayer and fasting. After much prayer and consultation, they sense God "honing down the spotlight of His love until we can clearly see one people illumined in the center, and that becomes our focus," Sprinkle explains.
This year, the spotlight illuminates the darkness of North Korea.
"We know God loves all the peoples of the earth, regardless of their situation," Sprinkle says. "We need to view the North Korean people as beloved of God and the focus of His saving grace in Christ, regardless of their current social and religious context."
Southern Baptists already have responded repeatedly to the physical needs of North Korea by sending ship- and plane-loads of food, medicine, and thousands of coats to help hungry children survive North Korea's freezing winters. Now God calls us to send an all-embracing blanket of prayer – not because North Koreans are "on their knees" as a nation, stresses Sprinkle, but because He loves them.
"Yes, some difficult and attention-grabbing circumstances have befallen North Korea," Sprinkle explains. "Southern Baptists and other evangelical believers have responded in the love of Christ to meet some of those needs. God clearly has been the One who has opened the door, and we trust that He is at work behind the scenes, too. Sometimes we see the evidence of this work out front on the world stage. But often it is just behind the curtains, and we don't see it until later."
Prayer penetrates all curtains, whether physical or spiritual. Now we see in part. One day, perhaps in eternity, we will see face to face what God is doing in North Korea. Until then, He calls us to be faithful.
In Korean culture, when you give a gift to someone, you give it with both hands. That says to the receiver: "I'm not holding anything back. I'm giving you all that I have."
The 1999 Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization, scheduled from 6 p.m. Friday, May 21, to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 22, is an opportunity for us to give with both hands in prayer for the people of North Korea. For a free prayer kit call Customer Service at the International Mission Board, 1-800-866-3621.
Prayer for North Korea
• Pray that Christian believers within North Korea, who must hide their faith and pray in secret, will find hope, strength, and protection in the Lord.
• Pray that refugees from the famine would hear the gospel in other countries and receive God's precious gift of life.
• Ask the Lord to provide food for the millions of North Koreans who are starving without ever hearing of God's love for them, and ask what part you might have in helping them.
• Pray for those who have been most severely affected by the past several years of famine – the children. Many are weak and small. But more important, their hearts and minds are in bondage.
• Pray for the safety of those who seek to bring the light of Christ into this dark corner of the world.