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Overcoming Obstacles in North Korea

26 January 2023

Choon-Hee* had no love in her for the man who owned her.

Like thousands of other North Korean women, Choon-Hee had illegally crossed the Yalu River into China in a desperate attempt to support herself, but her hopes soon turned into a nightmare.

“She was sold to this guy,” related Boaz Seong, director of TWR Korea, “she was unhappy.”

Although she was considered the man’s wife, there had been no marriage, Seong said as he continued the story. They had one child and lived in a remote farming community. She never said “I love you” to the man.

He was overseas to earn money when Choon-Hee joined an online follow-up team that serves with TWR Korea. One day, the study focussed on the family, drawing from God’s creation of man and woman in Genesis 1. “From this Bible study, she understood that even though she was sold into this family, it was part of God’s plan,” Seong related.

“After the Bible study, she made an international call and said to her husband, ‘I love you,’” he continued. “Her husband was shocked. ‘What happened to you?’” As she shared the story, so the family changed and because of this lady, the village people were also impacted.

Based in South Korea, TWR Korea’s mission is to reach North Koreans for Christ whether they are in their homeland or have migrated to other countries. In either case, gaining access requires overcoming daunting obstacles.

In North Korea

In North Korea itself, Christian radio programmes are broadcast via shortwave from the island of Guam. However listening to the programmes is not only illegal, radios themselves are illegal. Over the past 20 years, TWR Korea has distributed tens of thousands of radios to North Korea, but unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions have had the effect of preventing radio deliveries.

The radios are hidden when not in use and often that may mean keeping them in environments that are far from ideal. The radio also has a limited lifespan and we estimate that around half of the radios TWR Korea has distributed are still in working order.

There is a good reason for hiding them because, “listening to our programmes is dangerous,” Seong said.

To further complicate things TWR’s radio signal was also recently jammed, which has meant TWR has had to change the frequency it uses.

Still, evidence has emerged that the North Korean people are becoming more receptive to the message. Because of that, TWR Korea adjusted its focus about five years ago from programmes intended for underground church leaders to evangelism and pre-evangelism programmes.

In Russia

TWR Korea is also reaching out to North Koreans in Russia. Thousands of North Korean men work in Russia, living in work camps. Even though a daily headcount is taken in the camps, some of them manage to escape. If they can make their way to a U.N. office, they’ll be protected. Others flee, finding refuge elsewhere.

TWR Korea ministers to both groups with online programmes and also by sending missionaries to meet with them face to face. Seong’s colleague Brother Han specialized in this. In 2021, when COVID restrictions were relaxed, Brother Han and a co-worker travelled to Russia to make contact with new partners, co-workers and new groups of refugees. However, on the journey, he contracted COVID, which ultimately took his life.

We ask that you would remember to pray for Han’s wife and two university-aged children.

In China

Seong estimates more than 200,000 North Korean women have crossed into China. Many of them made the move during what he calls the “Big Hunger,” when famine plagued North Korea from 1995-2005. Many now have families and may live far from the border.

Missionaries have been able to reach this subgroup personally in the past, but COVID along with increased government restrictions made that increasingly difficult. So missionaries started using internet tools such as texts and Zoom, but the Chinese government implemented a new law on March 1 that blocked access in that way.

Seong and others are looking at digital radio broadcasting as a possible alternative.

Whether through jammed signals or restrictive laws, an enemy far more insidious than any government is trying to keep the gospel of Jesus Christ out of reach of North Koreans but God is greater. He is using the persistence and perseverance of TWR Korea to keep proclaiming the word, whatever the costs.

As you pray remember to lift up the TWR Korea team:

  • Pray for a clear and strong signal to be heard in North Korea.
  • Pray for the safety of the North Korean listeners.
  • Pray for a reopened border so radios can be delivered to North Korea.
  • Pray for the North Korean government to decide to become a “normal” country – “normal business, normal trading and normal communication.”


*Not her real name.