By Aaron Wilson
While many in the international community have praised recent peace initiatives between the U.S and North and South Korea, the results of such diplomacy efforts have left one ministry deflated.
For more than a decade, the missions organization Voice of the Martyrs has been launching thousands of New Testament-filled balloons from the northern countryside of South Korea. The Bibles are deployed by cover of night, wrapped in waterproof plastic, and carried by balloons that ride wind currents across The Demilitarized Zone before descending into the southern hills of North Korea—a country closed to Christianity and the Bible.
“North Korea is the one country in the world in which Bibles fall from the sky,” says Pastor Eric Foley of Voice of the Martyrs.
But now, North Korea may be facing a New Testament drought.
On Monday, June 25, South Korean police prohibited Voice of the Martyrs from launching its Bible-filled balloons from Yeoncheon County.
“What we’re facing now is a complete blockade for balloon launches, and the justification for it—that the South Korean government is giving to us—is that it ‘fouls the air for peace,’” Foley told Mission Network News.
This decision to halt balloon launches marks a deviation from long-standing South Korean police practices.
“For 12 years now we have had a good and professional relationship with the Yeoncheon police,” Foley told NK News. “This is the first time they have responded this way.”
The South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) released a statement on June 22 instructing activist groups to stop launching leaflet-filled balloons into North Korea citing, “the distribution of leaflets toward North Korea directly violates the spirit of agreement of the Panmunjom Declaration.”
North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in signed the Panmunjom Declaration on April 28, agreeing to work together to end the Korean conflict, denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and establish peace between the two countries.
Even though Voice of the Martyrs doesn’t fill its balloons with human rights leaflets or political propaganda as other groups do, it is still affected by the ban and will have to ground its inflatable ministry for the time being.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea reports they were launching approximately 40,000 Bibles per year into North Korea before the ban. They believe the balloon ministry has been an effective means of reaching people for Christ in the closed country.
“When we started more then 10 years ago, less than two percent of North Korean defectors reported ever having seen a Bible while inside North Korea,” Voice of the Martyrs Korea writes on its website. “Today, that number is around 10 percent.”
Open Doors USA labels North Korea No. 1 on its 2018 World Watch List for Christian persecution. While it’s technically legal for North Koreans to read the Bible published by the North Korean government—the same version of Scripture Voice of the Martyrs had been dropping—citizens who are caught with a Bible often face death or forced labor.
But North Korea’s ban on the Word of God may have backfired in some cases as these restrictions have created an enticement for some citizens to know what’s in this forbidden book.
“The government severely punishes people who own [a Bible],” one defector told Voice of the Martyrs. “And that makes a few of us curious as to what’s in it.”
Sadly, that curiosity may have to linger for some North Koreans who live on the southern border as it appears Bibles won’t be falling from the sky anytime soon.
The situation provides the Church one more way to be praying for the Korean Peninsula and for Christians who are risking their lives to share their faith in these countries—often in creative and innovative ways.
AARON WILSON (@AaronBWilson26) is associate editor of Facts & Trends.