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Sending Bibles in balloons to North Korea remains thorny issue

The North Korean defectors group, Fighters for a Free North Korea, sends leaflets to North Korea in this May 2010 file photo. / Korea Times file

The South Korean government has banned Christian ministries from sending bibles in balloons to North Korea, a tactic that has been used for over 12 years to help Christians in this country access the word of God.

Eric Foley with Voice of the Martyrs Korea (VOM) told Mission Network News on Monday that essentially, South Korea does not want to upset its northern neighbor and endanger the ongoing peace talks.

In April this year, the leaders of North and South Korea,  Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in respectively,  promised after a landmark summit to bring “lasting peace” to the peninsula with a commitment to denuclearisation and an end to decades of hostilities.

They vowed to work more closely on a host of bilateral issues, including reuniting families divided by the Korean war and improving cross-border transport links.

As the world watches and North Korea concedes to some talks with other nations, for Christians, this is translating to tighter reigns on spreading the Gospel through means like balloon launches, reports show.

“We’ve done (the balloon launching) responsibly for 17 years,” Foley told Korea Times. “We did it, we even launched the balloons at the time that Kim Jong-il died, the sinking of the Cheonan, the Yeonpyeong bombing and at no point have any of our actions moved this peninsula closer to war.”

VOM Korea sends copies of the North Korean Study Bible which uses the text of the Chosun Bible, the Bible in the North Korean dialect. The group uses weather balloons made of expandable vinyl when sending the copies of these Bibles.

“The balloons float as high as 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) before they pop in the air to leave only the books which according to the North Korean Constitution are legal,” he said. “It’s not even the South Korean Bible but it’s the North Korean Bible.”

The translation for the bible was a work commissioned by the North Korean government through their Chosun Christian Association which runs the state church. They produced the Common Translation (Pyongyang Version) in 1977, based on the Common Translation Bible published by the Korean Bible Society, an organization of the Protestant and Catholic Churches founded in 1947.

Foley told Korea Times he hopes the government’s efforts to build peace on the peninsula should not result in South Korea becoming less democratic.

“We have experienced some pressures both from the public and from the government to curtail some of our activities in order to join that peace process,” he said. “We support the government’s work in building peace but we believe it’s important to continue all of the parallel processes of peace.”

“What we cannot do is tailor our activities to match the political winds of the day,” he added.

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