Spreading the good word can have its rewards, but sometimes it can come at a risk, as one Christian pastor’s novel approach to evangelizing shows.
Reverend Dr. Eric Foley wants North Koreans to look to the sky. If they do, they just may see a balloon floating their way.
Foley runs a Christian ministry called Voice of the Martyrs Korea, and he and his followers “release helium-filled balloons carrying physical copies of the New Testament as well as digital and audio Bibles loaded onto SD memory cards,” according to World Magazine.
Foley made a promise to religiously isolated North Korean Christians back in 2003: He said he would do what he could to get them Bibles. And that’s when he came up with the balloon concept.
It’s done under cover of darkness, and the group hopes that the balloons pop when they are at their highest point, so the contents can scatter over a wider area.
The wind only blows the right way 10 to 15 times each summer, World Magazine reported. That’s when Foley and his team hike out to the frontier near the North Korean border.
Foley sends about 30,000 Bibles into the air every year, according to LifeSiteNews. It’s estimated that as many as 600,000 have landed north of the 38th parallel since the project began.
The effort is becoming so successful that it’s getting the attention of the North Korean government. And due to escalating border tensions between the two Koreas, Foley’s balloon might burst.
North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un discourage Christianity, and most religions for that matter. Even though the North Korean constitution supposedly guarantees “freedom of religious beliefs,” genuine religious freedom does not exist, according to a 2016 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
If North Koreans want to practice Christianity, they have to do it secretly.
The dictator’s sister, Kim Yo Jung, apparently doesn’t like what balloons from VOMK and other groups are bringing into the country, saying in June that the “evil propaganda” pouring into her country could jeopardize an agreement between North and South Korea meant to keep military jumpiness in check.
The South Korean government is now cracking down, with Foley facing three charges.
“One of them is related to the violation of an inter-Korean exchange law. [This] is a law that regulates commerce between North and South Korea; anything you might be trying to sell from South Korea to North Korea would need to be pre-approved by the government,” Foley told Mission Network News in November.
Another has to do with supposed national security matters.
“These are laws designed for natural disaster management,” Foley said, “but now they’re being related to balloon launching with a charge that our activity created a national threat to Korea.”
“The third charge that will come out is one related to the use of high-pressure gas,” he added.
“Essentially, the police recommending the charges guarantees that I’ll be charged; it’s just a question of when. Could be tomorrow, could be next week, could be next month; we don’t know,” Foley told Mission Network News.
Foley said he’s been doing this for more than a decade with minimal issues.
“We have to stand firm that private ministry activity is absolutely essential, especially when it’s done safely and respectfully, as we’ve done for 15 years,” he told World Magazine.
“God is finding ways to get Bibles into North Korea. We’re amazed at the avenues He’s opening. Please pray that continues. Pray that God is glorified,” Foley added to Mission Network News.
VOMK is not the only group trying to change hearts and minds in North Korea. A group called No Chain has dropped thousands of flash drives with the Bible on them into North Korea, Christianity Today reported in 2018.
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