Listen: Clare Chate chats with Tom Carr of VOM, after his trip to the border of North Korea.
While the world closely watches the unpredictable moves of North Korea, a large balloon carrying Bibles floats silently through the sky into the troubled nation.
Quietly it falls to the ground, undetected. What happens next, nobody really knows.
Hydrogen-filled balloons like this are being released by Voice of the Martyrs, an organisation working to spread the Christian message into what is currently the most anti-Christian nation in the world. The organisation has been sending “gospel balloons” over the North Korean border for more than 20 years – by day and by night, on land and at sea.
Balloons Filled With The Message Of Love
Tom Carr, head of the Australian branch of Voice of the Martyrs, has just returned from a visit to South Korea, where he helped with one such balloon mission, launching more than 60 balloons into the sky.
He told Hope Media that these unusual methods are the only way to reach some parts of North Korea with the message God’s love.
“We’ve had a group in Melbourne working on the science of this,” he said, “and they’ve helped us to predict with remarkable accuracy when to launch these balloons, what the weather conditions need to be, where we need to be located, and the exact spot that these will burst and drop Bibles.
“So we launch balloons filled with hydrogen, and each one has 20 soft cover Bibles in it – a New Testament plus Genesis, as well as two MP3 players containing the Bible.”
Reaching The Most Impenetrable Areas
“We launch these balloons in South Korea and attach GPS’s to some of them and we can track exactly where they go. When they get up to 27,000 metres they burst and the Bibles fall out in this spot in North Korea that we’re aiming for.
“We tracked them as they went, and as they burst, and got to see exactly where these Bibles landed.”
He said the Bibles are being aimed at the affluent areas of North Korea, in the country’s south, where owning a Bible does not carry the death sentence.
But it’s a mystery who is picking them up.
“Because of the area that it is – there is so little movement there – we have no contact with people in those areas,” he said. “So we trust that God is using them for His purpose.”
A Nation Of Skewed Theology
Mr Carr said it was crucial to try to spread the Christian message to North Korea, a nation that’s brainwashed with strange dogmas about creation and the world.
“In North Korea they’re taught that they’re created in their leaders’ image,” he said. “They worship a trinity, which is [made up of] the leaders and their wives. They have a very skewed version of the world.
“So there basically are no Christians in North Korea that are brought up there as Christians. There are only people who are evangelised when they go outside North Korea and go back in. It’s a very tough place for people to be a Christian.”
Believing In Jesus Can Get You Killed
“In the north of North Korea, if people are caught with a Bible or are found to be evangelising, it used to be an instant death penalty,” Mr Carr said.
“Then it changed – often people would be imprisoned for anywhere up to 15 years – but now it’s back more to the death penalty.
“In the southern part, which is more affluent, the death penalty is not as common, but Christianity is not a normal thing there.”
The “Underground University” Helping Young Believers
While in South Korea, Mr Carr spent time with North Koreans in the Voice of the Martyrs “Underground University”.
Here, new believers are taught the Bible so that they can become stronger in their newfound faith. They are then able to share the gospel message with other North Koreans.
Usually North Koreans are exposed to the gospel message after they escape their nation.
“Often people will come out of North Korea into places like northern China, and meet up with missionaries and be taught a very limited amount of Christianity, because there are language barriers,” Mr Carr said.
“So when they get to South Korea, we’re able to work with them.
“They sometimes are misinformed or have a misshapen understanding of Christianity, so we work with them through these two-year courses to give them a more indepth theology and equip them to then evangelise to other North Koreans that come out of the country.”
Why A Loaf Of Bread Caused A Girl To Flee
Mr Carr met some people with incredible stories, including a woman who fled North Korea as a child.
“When [this woman] was a 12-year-old girl, she used to have to go and collect wood to sell to people, to buy meals for the family,” he said.
“One day she collected her wood but was unable to sell it. There was no-one with any money at all. But one man had a loaf of bread that he offered to trade her for the bundle of wood.
“She’d never seen bread before so she decided to have a bite of that bread, and she loved it so much and she was starving, so she ate the whole loaf.”
He explained that starvation is common in North Korea.
“There are people starving to death as we speak.”
Mr Carr said the young girl’s decision to eat the loaf of bread led her to flee her nation.
“She’d never seen bread before… there are people starving to death as we speak.”
“She felt bad that she’d eaten the whole loaf and she knew she couldn’t face her family, so she fled,” he said. “She walked for about three days which got her to the river between North Korea and China. She crossed the river on a man’s back and got into China as a 12-year-old girl.
“She ended up living with a Christian missionary family in China who adopted her as one of their own and she grew up to be a Christian.”
That young girl is now an adult living in South Korea and working as a radio presenter for Voice of the Martyrs, broadcasting Christian messages via shortwave radio into North Korea
“She has be benefit of speaking North Korean and having an understanding of the people that are going through these things, so she’s the perfect person to do that job,” Mr Carr said.
How Can Australians Help The People Of North Korea?
Voice of the Martyrs works in many nations – particularly in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South East Asia.
To help suffering Christians to maintain their belief and grow in their faith, they equip them with Bibles, and assist them with emotional and medical support when they are beaten. They also support families and children whose parents are killed or imprisoned for their faith.
Mr Carr said donating towards the work of organisations like his was one way to make a difference. The other way is to get informed and pray. Voice of the Martyrs sends out newsletters and tweets a new prayer request each day.
“These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, they need our help,” he said.
“These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They need our help.”
“Often people feel alone in their persecution and they feel that God and the whole world has left them just to fend for themselves.
“[But] as soon as they know that there is a great deal of support happening all around the world for them, it changes their outlook on things. It strengthens their faith, it gives them so much more purpose and so much more trust that they are doing the right thing, and God is in control and looking after them.
“When we meet with people in restricted nations they invariably are so moved by the knowledge that there are people in other countries around the world praying for them; that they’re not abandoned.”
Learn More About North Korea
- The horrifying truth about life in North Korea
- The boy who grew up in North Korea’s labour camp 14
- What North Koreans are taught about Americans
- What children of North Korea are taught in kindergarten
– Watch below as Voice of the Martyrs launches “gospel balloons” into North Korea