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Yalu River
The Yalu River forms the border
between China and North Korea.
Photo: World Watch Monitor

Hundreds of South Korean Christians, including church leaders, have been sent home within the past year by three northeastern provincial governments in a move that is seen to be an implementation of a new set of rules to control religious activities.

It's estimated that there were over a thousand South Korean pastors and missionaries working in the northeast part of China, and their departure has led to numerous church closures and abandoned communities. In January of this year, 32 South Korean missionaries were expelled from the Yanji region in Jilin Province, which nears the border of North Korea. By early October, there were no remaining South Korean churches in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province.

Although the Chinese government has not provided an explanation for the departure of such large numbers of South Korean Christians, all three provinces involved -- Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang -- clearly border North Korea. Government officials were under suspicion that some of the pastors had been helping North Korean defectors.

According to Dr. Eric Foley, Chief Executive Officer of VOM Korea, this outcome is not surprising. Back in 2014, he forewarned of such events in a previously published article: "From a field standpoint, the situation facing North Korean work in northeast China is tight and getting tighter. Don't expect China to do nothing. If North Korea is pointing to missionaries operating in China as a source of potential North Korean instability, and if it is alleging that China is the host, then missionaries can expect an increasing crackdown on churches and discipleship bases reaching North Koreans." In the article, Dr. Foley also mentioned the need for fellow believers to pray about the situation.

With the expulsion of so many South Korean Christians, we ask the Lord to comfort all those affected by the imposed governmental restrictions. May they be encouraged by His reassuring presence and the reminder that He will open a door which no one can shut (Revelation 3:8). Although there are empty spaces remaining in the communities left behind, pray that His ministry to North Korean defectors will continue to flourish and the hope of His people will thrive. This includes His ongoing work through VOM Korea's multiple ministry projects and outreaches -- Underground University (missionary training), Underground Technology (discipleship training), Scripture balloon launches, radio broadcasts, the distribution of MP3 players, and other effective means of providing vitally needed ministry.