Smuggling Christmas into North Korea
Time has a moving Christmas story about the realities of faith in North Korea:
The piece begins:
"When North Korean authorities caught Jeong Young Sil helping Christians escape to China seven years ago, they did not take her transgression lightly. First, they pulled out her teeth and fingernails to get information about her underground church in the country's northeast. Then, they threw her in prison for four years. "They demanded to know who was helping me and where they were," says Jeong, an evangelist in her 50s now living in South Korea, who uses an alias to protect her family back home. Despite their efforts, the Northern officials could not stop her. After she fled two years ago, she secretly began sending Christmas gifts to her old church. "Christmas," Jeong says, "would otherwise be meaningless."
Teeth and fingernails.
How many times have I read American Catholic bloggers waxing eloquent about how this is the darkest era the Church has ever lived through? Do we feel social pressure to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? I'm going to cry me a river. By world historical standards, western Christians today are staggeringly free, powerful, and wealthy.
Here's what the real thing looks like:
"As a result, the regime routinely imprisons and executes Christian religious leaders who teach their faith without state approval, according to a U.S. State department report. Official figures put the number of practicing Christians at 13,000 in 2001, but South Korean church groups estimate about 100,000 Christians practice in secret churches across the nation now. "We always met for prayer at peoples' homes, in groups of two to keep it private," Jeong says. "When we met in bigger groups, we went far away to the mountains where no one could find us."
For more, read my blog post of a couple years ago about the new Korean Underground Railway.
Don't get me wrong. I am enjoying and am intensely grateful today for my warm, cheery home with it's 8 foot Christmas tree, refrigerator stuffed with seasonal goodies, and the beautiful satellite radio Christmas concert I am listening to as I type this words on my MAC. The leisurely, free Skype holiday conversations with friends in other western countries. We can talk about faith or pray together - no worries at all.
Then there's the little GPS device that we got on sale (the Christmas gift!) which is useful precisely because I have the freedom to travel without hindrance anywhere in this country - for nearly any purpose - including openly religious ones.
But God forbid that we lose touch with the reality of what real persecution for our Lord's sake look like.