Voice of the Martyrs Korea CEO Eric Foley Explains Korean Balloon Launch Investigations (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of VOM Canada.

This interview has received some editing for brevity. However, it has largely been preserved in its original format for clarity.

To learn more about the ongoing balloon launch investigations, read our previous article here. Read Part One of our conversation here.

Mission Network News (MNN): You’ve mentioned in our earlier conversations something about how the world sometimes draws the line between spiritual and political peace where the Church would not necessarily do that. Can you elaborate on that?

Eric Foley of Voice of the Martyrs Korea: […]The investigation has been broadened to other North Korea-related NGOs, a total of 89 North Korea-related NGOs, which again, points out that balloon launching is the tip of a very large iceberg. Essentially, that iceberg is whether NGOs will be able to or be allowed to operate doing North Korea work that’s outside the government’s plan or preference. NGO means non-governmental, but it is being construed in this current circumstance as anti-governmental to the degree that when we do things that are outside the government’s plan or purpose, it is conceived of as being anti or against the government’s purpose. “Creating tension” is the term that the government likes to use, creating tension in its effort to deal with attempting to achieve peace with North Korea. Our statement has been that peace is a much broader issue than simply the political dimensions.

For 15 years in our balloon launching work, we’ve been able to demonstrate how it’s possible for the government to achieve its national security goals and yet for the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion not to be constrained. That is to say, we’ve worked to listen and try to respond to any concerns or questions that the government has raised, while at the same time recognizing that for Christians, and for other religions, and even other people in civil society, their understanding of peace extends beyond to political peace. The idea that peace can be had, for example, by bringing an end to the Korean War and negotiated political settlement between North and South Korea sounds like an important part of the peace process, and yet it doesn’t fully address the questions of peace.

From a Christian standpoint, we would say that there is a peace that the world cannot give that can only come from Christ, and that peace is not competitive with national security goals or things like that that governments undertake. The government has, through its investigation… created the idea that anything that is outside of the government’s plan related to peace actually creates tension and works against that plan. That’s an unusual situation that is now drawing the attention of not only human rights groups around the world, but the United Nations. So the United Nations, through its North Korea-related point person, has urged the South Korean government not to take this action and not to approach it with such speed and swiftness. [They’ve] urged the government to talk with NGOs and to make sure that the values that NGOs bring -which are related to peace, but in ways that tend to be broader than simply negotiating peace between two states – that those elements of human rights and religious freedom should not be lost.

That’s why, as I’ve said, this issue related to balloon launching is simply the tip of a very large iceberg. And so now, not just human rights organizations around the world but the United Nations, is urging the South Korean government to reconsider its rapid investigation and inspection of North Korea-related NGOs, seeing it as a real threat to civil society – not only free speech but also issues related to religious freedom and those are the ones of course that relate most to our work.

MNN: So why now? Why is this the line that officials are drawing with balloon launches?

Foley: I think for some people it will seem like a sudden event, but for us, it’s actually a continuation of a process that began in 2018 with the meetings between the president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, and Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, and of course the meetings between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. From the South-North meetings came a declaration called the Panmunjom Declaration, and it identified a set of agreements between North and South Korea.

That happened in April 2018. In May 2018, we received a call for the first time in our history from the South Korean government Ministry of Unification. We’ve never been contacted by them before ever in our history because our own NGO is not with them at all. In other words, in Korea, different NGOs are chartered by different parts of the government or different groups depending upon the type of NGO you are, and ours is under the Cultural Policy Division because we’re a Christian NGO. So we never interacted with the Ministry of Unification, which deals with, typically, with North Korean defector issues and North-South issues, but they contacted us in May 2018. [They told us to] “stop making broadcasts and doing many of the things that you do because they create a bad air” – this is the phrasing of the Ministry of Unification – “it creates a bad air for peace.” And they said, “In exchange, what we foresee in the future is the opportunity for you possibly to participate in cultural exchanges where the North and South Korean governments will create events at which North and South Korean citizens may be invited to participate, and you can perhaps come there and you may even be able to hand out your Bibles at those events.”

We said, “We’re not missionaries. Actually, we’re partners of the underground North Korean church. The underground North Korean Church, by definition, remains enemies of the North Korean state because anyone who does religious Christian activity in North Korea commits a crime against the state. And so as the partners of underground North Korean Christians, our work is not missional in nature. We exist to serve the Lord by serving them and asking them how we can support their work of discipleship and evangelism in North Korea. That means that our issue falls completely outside of the boundaries of cultural exchanges between the North and South Korean in government; our partners are enemies of the North Korean state, and we ourselves, according to North Korea’s response to the United Nations report on religious freedom and human rights in North Korea in 2014, are called terrorists. Missionaries commit what North Korea calls acts of terror. And so by definition, we fall outside the boundaries of this peace process.”

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SOURCE: Mission Network News, Alex Anhalt


  • Pray for believers in North Korea seeking hope.
  • Ask God to speed the investigations along so that Voice of the Martyrs can resume their work.
  • Thank Him for His faithfulness even in times of hardship.

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