30th May, 2016

North Korea's ruling regime ordered the abduction of a Christian missionary involved in contacts with the persecuted but thriving underground church in the Communist-run nation, an official and other Christians with close knowledge about the situation told BosNewsLife.

Suzanne Scholte, president of US-based advocacy group Defense Forum Foundation (DFF), said "workers in the field have confirmed that the abduction of Deacon Kim WonHo from China was carried out on orders by those in authority in Pyongyang," the capital. "This means that the order for his abduction came from the regime itself...not from those (authorities) in the border region," she added.

DFF organised the first US Congressional hearing on North Korea’s political prison camps in 1999 and the most recent hearing on those camps in 2011.

"Colleagues are trying to find out more about his whereabouts and status, but they feel certain he is in Pyongyang," Scholte said of the deacon. "The regime clearly regarded him as a threat because of his desire to connect with the underground church in North Korea."

The South Korean-based Christian mission group that employed him, Serving Life International (SLI), told BosNewsLife earlier that he disappeared after entering China on 19th March "to open up a desperately needed, yet equally dangerous channel of contact with the underground churches inside North Korea". He was also to meet "a potential rescue ministry broker" to help rescue persecuted Christians, SLI said.

Deacon Kim WonHo escaped from North Korea in 2007 and eventually entered South Korea in February, 2008, Christians told BosNewsLife. SLI added that he "met Christ personally in 2009 and was baptised in 2011."

The group noted that "for the past six years, he has been faithfully walking with Christ."

He has one daughter and granddaughter who reside with him in South Korea, but his wife and son still live in North Korea, according to Christian friends.

Scholte told BosNewsLife that the abduction is "further testimony of just how much the...regime (of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un) continues to fear Christians". She added that it should "remind us all of how important it is to pray for the church in North Korea and those defectors, who like Deacon Kim, put themselves in grave danger to preach the Gospel."

The DFF president said she had urged Christians to "pray for strength, spiritual protection, and wisdom for our brother in Christ, Deacon Kim, and those advocating for him will have wisdom on how best to intercede on his behalf."

More details about the abduction emerged after North Korea's first full congress of its ruling party since 1980. The meeting was a major political event intended to claim the country's stability and unity under young leader Kim, despite international criticism and tough new sanctions over the North's recent nuclear test and several missile launches.

Under Kim's leadership several Christians are believed to have been executed in the country where where at least 100,000 Christians are said to be held in concentration-camp conditions, according to activists and survivors.

Most are said to have been detained for refusing to worship North Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung's cult and remaining faithful to their faith in Jesus Christ. Advocacy group Open Doors has ranked North Korea No. 1 on its annual World Watch List of 50 countries where it says it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

At the 6th to 10th May Congress of the Workers Party, Kim enshrined his hold on power and his commitment to developing nuclear weapons by officially becoming party chairman. His sister, Kim Yo-jong was given a key post at the country's rare ruling party congress.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans were seen in a massive civilian parade featuring floats bearing patriotic slogans and marchers with flags and pompoms.

Students told foreign reporters, who were closely watched by official minders, that they had been practising for the rally, which is considered mandatory.

- STEFAN J BOS, BosNewsLife