June 11, 2018
Hours away from one of the most high-profile meetings of the decade, the entire world seems to be holding its breath. And while a lot of the chatter about the North Korean-U.S. summit is about denuclearization, millions of Christians are hoping President Trump can convince Kim Jong Un to lay down another weapon: his deadly hatred of religious expression.
North Korea may be 93rd in land mass, but the regime is first where it hurts -- in the war against Christianity. For 17 years, the vicious dictators of the Kim family have ruled with an iron fist in the country that now sits in the world spotlight. Three generations of believers have lived in absolute terror of being discovered, Open Doors USA explains in a sobering report about the state of faith under the Kim's iron fist. In a culture where neighbors act as spies and children turn in their own parents, something as simple as owning a Bible can be a death sentence.
Even now, leading up to this historic meeting, Kim Jong Un has continued to consolidate his power. The release of three Christians, as a sign of good faith, was encouraging, but little else in the country has changed. To many observers, the people most desperate for a productive meeting are the North Koreans themselves, who live under one of the most repressive regimes in modern times. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who's made religious persecution a priority in his first few months on the job, continues to be optimistic about the summit's prospects.
"It's the case, in each of those two countries, there are only two people that can make decisions of this magnitude. And those two people are going to be sitting in a room together tomorrow," Pompeo told reporters. But as significant as the dialogue is from a national security standpoint, it could also be the first time a sitting president has the chance to confront Kim Jong Un about his horrific record on human rights.
In a powerful interview with the Stream, Vernon Brewer of World Help, who's visited the region several times, emphasizes the fact that, "Real lives are at stake here. Thousands of North Koreans have starved in the last 20 years. They're the ones who pay the ultimate price for the outcome of these negotiations." Brewer, who made his first trip to the area a decade ago, can only shake his head at the dangerous conditions for Christians. Of the 300,000 Christians counted by the government, a quarter are in prison camps that World War II survivors insist are as bad as Nazi concentration camps.
Open Doors' Lindy Lowry points out that in a 2017 International Bar Association War Committee report, there were "gut-wrenching details from personal testimonies, video, transcripts and scholarly works about the state of North Korea's prison camps. One of the judges, a former child survivor of the notorious concentration camp in Auschwitz, said the conditions in North Korea were as bad -- or even worse -- than what he experienced in the Nazi concentration camp." The average life expectancy for a Christian there is only about three years, Brewer tells Josh Shepherd soberly. "Many of them are beaten, tortured, and prodded with electric stun batons. They even have experimental surgeries done on them, sending them into a coma or vegetative state."
Life is just as bleak for the average North Korean. In the terrifying true story, A River in Darkness, Masaji Ishikaw, talks about his chilling experience before escaping the country that tried to kill him. Like so many living under the regime, he desperately gnawed on apple cores, empty corncobs, or acorns just to stay alive. "... people faced incredible hardship and deprivation of both the physical and mental variety and wasted away under food shortages," he writes.
These are the stakes, the harrowing backdrop to the summit taking place in the next few hours. Several faith leaders, including me, have urged the president to take this rare opportunity to confront North Korea's horrifying record on human rights. "We'll bring it up," President Trump told reporters over the weekend.
Vice President Mike Pence reiterated that commitment in a meeting that I had with him earlier today. He also asked me to encourage Christians across the nation to pray for President Trump as he sits down with Kim Jong Un. Just meeting with Kim Jong Un is an extraordinary accomplishment -- but, for the sake of so many innocent people, we're praying that it opens the door to so much more.
Please join us in praying for President Trump and his meeting with Kim Jong Un an hour before the summit kicks off at 8:00 p.m. (ET).
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.