A pastor on the China-North Korea border shared the hope of the Gospel with at least 1,000 North Koreans before he was assassinated for his missionary work in 2016, a defector has revealed.
Voice of the Martyrs says the Rev. Han Chung-Ryeol, a Chinese pastor of Korean descent, was on Pyongyang’s most-wanted list as early as 2003 for his charitable work and dedication to spreading the Gospel.
Han, who ministered on the border town of Changbai since the early 1990s, ministered to thousands of North Koreans over the years — many of whom had fled the famine-stricken country in search of food and jobs. The pastor provided practical aid, such as food and clothing, and introduced each person to the Gospel before sending them back to North Korea to share Christ and help their families.
After planting a Three-Self Church near the North Korean border in 1993, Han helped orphans, women enslaved to prostitution, soldiers, those starving from famine, and many others.
One man helped by Han, Sang-chul, shared his story in a short documentary released by The Voice of the Martyrs.
“In primary school, we were taught that all missionaries were terrorists,” Sang-chul says in the video through a translator. “They told us that a missionary will be nice to you at first, but when they get you into their homes, then they will kill you and eat your liver.”
The North Korean said he didn’t have work or food in his village, so like others, he snuck across the mountain border into China. Along the way, he picked mushrooms in hopes of selling them in a market.
“I don’t speak Chinese at all, but in the mountains, I met a man. He said, ‘I can sell those for you.’ And he didn’t cheat me. He gave me all the money from the sale and at that time, I didn’t know he was Pastor Han,” Sang-chul recalled.
“Over the next two years I went back several times,” he continued. “Each time, Pastor Han helped me. One day, I asked why he’d do this, for he himself was in great danger for assisting a North Korean.”
“It is because I am a Christian,” Han said.
And then one day Han told him: “God is real. There is hope for every person.” But Sang-chul wondered why anyone would say “Hananim,” the word for God.
“I could not believe he would say that word, ‘God.’ Nobody says that word,” Sang-chul said. “We know that it is an act of treason. To speak the name of God can lead to soldiers coming in the night.”
There would be no trial over such a crime, he said, and “no one will ever dare ask where you have gone.”
Soon, Sang-chul became convinced Christianity was true and asked the pastor for a Bible. At first, Han was hesitant, not wanting to put his friend in harm’s way.
“But over time, I persuaded him,” Sang-chul said. “I showed the Bible to my wife. At first, she refused to even look at it … she knew that if anyone reported that you had even glanced at a Bible, you would be arrested, and not just you. You and all your relatives sent to the concentration camps for years and years.”
But over time, Sang-chul’s wife also embraced Christianity and found hope: “It was very dangerous for me to share,” he said.
One day, in the summer of 2016, Sang-chul heard that some North Koreans were being honored for their work of killing a Christian “terrorist” missionary.
“We knew it was Pastor Han,” he said. “Who else could it be? We were frightened. Did they know he was my friend? Did they know I had met with him many times?”
Voice of the Martyrs reported in 2016 that Han was brutally murdered in Changbai, China. Just 49 at the time of his death, the pastor’s mangled body was discovered just hours after he left his church building in Changbai.
“Pastor Han gave his life, but he gave hope to me and to many other North Koreans,” Sang-chul said. “And despite the ever-present danger, many of us will continue to share the message that God is real.”
The North Korean Christian concludes by saying: “We hope that our sacrifice, when the day comes, will be worthwhile, just like it was for Pastor Han.”
VOM encourages people to “pray for the courageous Christians who risk their lives daily to share the hope of Christ in North Korea.”
North Korea has for the last 18 years ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List. In the hermit country, those who profess Christ or are caught communicating with missionaries face severe repercussions like torture and imprisonment.
No definitive estimates exist on how many people have died inside North Korean political camps but some believe the number ranges from 400,000 to many millions.