Missionaries at risk on North Korean border

China | Apr 6, 2018
Along the North Korean border with China, dozens of missionaries are engaged in work that puts them and their North Korean converts in danger.

Most are South Koreans, but others are ethnic Koreans whose families have lived in China for generations.

In recent years, 10 such front-line missionaries and pastors have died mysteriously, according to Kim Kyou Ho, head of the Seoul-based Chosen People Network, a Christian group that runs a memorial hall in Seoul for the victims. North Korea is suspected in all those deaths.

Hundreds of other missionaries have been imprisoned or expelled by China, which bans foreigners from proselytizing.

Li Baiguang, a Chinese human rights lawyer whose work defending Christian pastors and farmers had prompted repeated death threats, died on February 26, hours after being admitted to a Chinese military hospital for what his relatives described as a minor stomach ailment.

The border missionaries provide their North Korean visitors with room and board, and those escaping with places to hide. In return, they ask them to memorize the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed and other prayers. Some of the most trusted converts return home to North Korea and covertly share what they've learned, sometimes carrying Bibles.

Among the missionaries and pastors killed under mysterious circumstances in recent years is Han Chung-ryeol, a Chinese pastor of Korean descent who headed a front-line church in the Chinese border town of Changbai before he was found dead of multiple stab wounds and a punctured skull in April 2016, raising suspicions that North Korea was involved.

Chinese police recently told his family that surveillance video had captured images of three men and a woman suspected of being North Korean agents crossing the border before and after the 49-year-old pastor's slaying, Han's sister, Han Songshi, said.

She said Chinese authorities told the family the North didn't respond to Chinese requests to extradite the suspects.

North Korea instead sent a letter to the state religious affairs bureau in Changbai saying it had arrested one of Han's church deacons, Zhang Wenshi, and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor, according to two people with direct knowledge of the case.

Associated Press

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