While North Korea largely has shielded its people from ideas that conflict with its tyrannical state ideology, for decades radio signals have penetrated the communist nation’s borders with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
South of the border, meanwhile, Christianity has flourished, with as much as 40 percent of the population, according to some estimates, embracing the faith. Seoul, the capital, has more megachurches than any other city in the world, and six of the the world’s 10 largest churches are in South Korea.
It’s those parallel developments that may help ease any future reunification of the peninsula, a more likely prospect than at any time over the past 70 years as President Trump prepares to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on the heels of a historic meeting in the DMZ with South Korean President Moon.
The daily Christian broadcasts of the Far East Broadcasting Company was the focus of a feature published this week by The Atlantic magazine.
The Christians behind FEBC, the magazine said, advocate for the reunification of the two Koreas under a democratic system, which they believe would bolster religious freedom.
They see Christianity as an antidote to the North Korean Juche ideology, the “self-reliant” communism developed by Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
FEBC spreads its Gospel message with a 300-kilowatt transmitter that can reach not only the entire peninsula but also Japan and parts of Russia and China.
While it’s impossible to estimate the listenership in North Korea, Mary Kay Park, a media strategist at the station’s Los Angeles branch, estimated that the number is likely “in the thousands,” The Atlantic reported.
“We transmit changed values, and different ideas of the gospel and what freedom looks like. The transformational message of the gospel will help if there is reunification,” she said.
FEBC has special programming for North Korea, including shows hosted by defectors and the audio of entire church services, because Christians in the communist nation face punishment by forced labor or execution for gathering to worship.
Only a few formal, state-controlled religious gatherings are allowed to exist, according to the CIA World Factbook, to “provide an illusion of religious freedom.”
Independent religious activity is “almost nonexistent.”
In the 1940s, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the population of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang attended church. After decades of oppression, the United Nations in 2014 cited estimates that the entire country had between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians, or around 1 percent of the population.
The Atlantic noted that tourist visits to North Korea are closely chaperoned by state-employed guides, and “proselytizing” is prohibited.
However, FEBC enables North Koreans to secretly listen to its programs by smuggling in handheld radio receivers through Christian organizations.
Some radios have been sent over the border by balloon.
FEBC’s Chung Soo Kim told The Atlantic the North Korean government lacks the financial resources to successfully jam its signals.
“They do not even have enough food to feed their own people,” he said.
Defectors and listener feedback have indicated the broadcasts are reaching their destination.
Sookook Kim, who works in FEBC’s feedback department, told The Atlantic a rare letter from a Christian living in North Korea told of listening to the broadcasts under a blanket at 4 a.m., the only time it was deemed safe.
FEBC also broadcasts to South Korea a show dedicated to reunification that offers news about the North. Chung Soo Kim said that while the station refrains from suggesting specific paths toward reunification, its ideal unified state would give all Koreans “an equal amount of freedom.”
“Korea is divided, and we consider them as our people,” he said. “We are solely doing the best we can do to bring reunification through the religious sector.”