Ready for Martyrdom in North Korea
                   from, Dec '02

     He has returned to share the gospel in the world's most atheistic country. A man who escaped oppression and famine in North Korea has returned to his homeland -- and almost certain death--
to share the gospel with others held in spiritual bondage in the world's most atheistic country. Cho Bung-il's remarkable story of faith is told in the January issue of "Charisma" magazine, out next week, which records how the church in North Korea is growing despite brutal persecution.
     "My prayer is that I do not get executed on the spot, but sent to a concentration camp. At least I can witness there," Cho said before he set out on foot to return to North Korea from China, to which he fled two years ago. Despite giving himself only a "one percent chance of survival," Cho said he had to go back because "in North Korea it is virtually impossible to hear about Jesus Christ. We are utterly cocooned."
     As many as 3 million people are believed to have died of starvation in the last few years in North Korea, where despite the denial of religion, leader Kim Il Sung has godlike status. It is considered a crime to sit on a newspaper containing the leader's photograph. Meanwhile, Christians are worked to death in Nazi-style death camps, where they are forbidden to look up at the sky. Yet the underground church is estimated to be anywhere between 10,000- and 500,000-strong.
     "It never occurred to me that North Korea was not the best of all possible worlds," said Cho, who in 10 years' army service was given home leave only twice. Moving to a new posting in 2000, he was shocked to discover the extent of the famine. "Everywhere people were lying by the road, sick or dead," he said. "Blackouts were common. There were confirmed cases of parents eating their grandparents to stay alive." Following orders, Cho shot several civilians climbing on trains while searching for food.
     Returning home to attend his mother's funeral, he was shocked to learn his wife and child had starved to death two years previously, but he had never been told because of an administrative oversight. Then at his mother's funeral, he heard his father whisper: "May she rest in the bosom of Jesus." Cho said later his parents had never told him they were Christians because "they knew I would be tricked into betraying them."
     When Cho found out that authorities were investigating his father, he fled into neighboring China, as one of thousands of North Koreans who have escaped over the border. Taken in by police, he escaped from a truck driving him back to North Korea, but was injured in the process.
     Cho was helped by Christians, whom he first thought "would kill me. That's what I was told Christians did." But they nursed him back to health, and Cho gave his life to Christ through their witness. He was trained in an underground house church and decided to go back voluntarily to North Korea.
     Cho said that he hoped he might be "the uncut rock," referring to the Bible passage in Daniel which describes how God takes a small rock and destroys a huge statue. "The idolatrous kingdom of North Korea will fall," he said. "God will send a rock to smash its feet, and I will play my part. Who knows? Perhaps the time of smashing has already come."