The Sons of Pyongyang

Last updated 17 April 2015 14:14

Kim Suki recalls her time spent teaching English in the world's most isolated nation.

The "Powerful and Prosperous Nation"

Smiling portraits of the founding fathers adorn the walls of every household in the country. Entire generations of families are bred, born, and raised in labour camps without ever knowing a life beyond the barbed-wire fences. Some of the worst human rights violations in history are suspected of being carried out inside of its airtight borders. Like something straight out of George Orwell's 1984, North Korea has transformed over the decades into an unprecedented cult of personality which deifies the ruling Kim family. With all traditional missionary activity strictly prohibited, reaching the people of North Korea with the Gospel seems like an impossible task—however, a small window remains open for qualified professionals.

A Rare Opportunity

Kim Suki, originally from South Korea, was offered a job teaching English for six months in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. In her memoir, Without You, There Is No Us, she details her experience of educating the sons of North Korea's high-ranking officials while living in a country that can only be described as morbidly fascinating.

“Two hundred and seventy young men, and about 30 teachers, all Christian evangelicals besides me, were isolated together in a guarded compound, where our classes and movements were watched round the clock,” says Suki, describing the university where she taught. She goes on to explain that all of her lessons had to be approved by North Korean officials, which threw a wrench in her efforts to share information about the outside world with her students. She struggled to get through to them, and quickly realized that their lifelong indoctrination had left them unable and unwilling to think critically about anything—unless they were criticizing Western, and particularly American, culture. “Nothing, it seemed, could break through their belligerent isolation,” she writes; “moreover, this attitude left no room for any argument, since all roads led to just one conclusion.” For her, it was a culture shock quite unlike any other.

North Korea and the Gospel

If merely educating her students was a challenging task for Suki, then sharing the Gospel with them was even more difficult for her Christian colleagues, whose positions were compromised upon the release of Suki's book. North Korea remains one of the most hostile nations in the world in regards to Christianity and religion; Christian missionaries, as such, have little hope of setting foot on its soil, but for certain professionals, entry is a possibility. If anyone is applying for these positions, should it not be professional, discerning believers who are prepared to bring the Gospel to a people group that so desperately needs it?