A new video from Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) dramatizes the true story of a North Korean man named Sang-chul whose life was changed when he met a pastor in China. This pastor, Han Chung Ryeol, risked and ultimately sacrificed his life to bring the gospel to people living in what is arguably the most oppressive country in the world.
“To speak the name of God can lead to soldiers coming in the night,” says Sang-chul. “And there will be no trial. No journalists will write about you, and no one will ever dare ask where you have gone.”
Voice of the Martyrs Tells Sang-chul’s Story
According to CBN News, Pastor Han was of Korean descent but had Chinese citizenship. When he met Sang-chul, he was pastoring a government-approved church in Changbai, a town near the North Korean border, and was also ministering to North Korean refugees.
Because of poverty in his North Korean village, Sang-chul decided to sneak across the border into China and began picking mushrooms in the woods in hopes of selling them in Changbai. While in the woods, he met Pastor Han, who offered to sell the mushrooms on his behalf, as Sang-chul did not speak Chinese. He was surprised when the pastor did not take advantage of him, but instead gave him all of the money from the mushroom sales.
Sang-chul went back and forth between China and North Korea multiple times over the next two years, always assisted by the man he had met in the woods. When Sang-chul eventually asked Pastor Han why he was putting himself in danger by helping someone from North Korea, the pastor told him it was because he was a Christian. This scared Sang-chul initially because when he was growing up, he had been taught that missionaries were terrorists who would pretend to be kind until they got you into their homes. Then, he was told, they would kill you and eat your liver.
Sang-chul was also shocked when Pastor Han told him, “God is real. There is hope for every person.” No one ever mentions the word, “God,” says Sang-Chul, because “it is an act of treason.” And if someone reports you have even “glanced at” a Bible, you and all your relatives will be arrested and sent to a concentration camp for years. But Sang-chul eventually put his trust in God and persuaded Pastor Han to give him a Bible, despite the danger. Over time, Sang-chul even took the risk of sharing his new-found hope with his wife and his best friend.
Then in the summer of 2016, Sang-chul says he heard that the North Korean government was honoring some assassins for killing a “terrorist missionary” in Changbai. He immediately knew it was Pastor Han who had died. CBN News reports that the pastor was found in the Changbai Mountains with multiple knife and axe wounds. He died at age 49, leaving behind his wife and two children.
Pray for the Persecuted Church
November 3rd is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church 2019. VOM hopes that by showing the challenges Christians face within “the world’s most restricted nation,” they can inspire people to pray for persecuted believers in North Korea and across the world.
North Korea is the primary offender on Open Doors’ World Watch List, which annually ranks the top 50 countries in the world where Christians face the worst persecution. North Korea has held the number one spot on the list for the past 18 years. Open Doors says, “If Christians are discovered, not only are they deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot, their families will share their fate as well…Meeting other Christians in order to worship is almost impossible and if some believers dare to, it has to be done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes.”
And yet many followers of Christ are courageously persevering in sharing their faith. Before his murder on April 30th, 2016, Pastor Han discipled over 1,000 North Koreans. Says Sang-chul, “Pastor Han gave his life, but he gave hope to me and to many other North Koreans, and despite the ever present danger, many of us will continue to share the message that God is real. We hope that our sacrifice, when the day comes, will be worthwhile, just like it was for Pastor Han.”