Chinese pastor shared Christian faith with 1,000 North Koreans before execution, defector claims

A pastor on the China-North Korea border shared his faith with at least 1,000 North Koreans in the Hermit Kingdom before he was assassinated in 2016, a defector claims.

Rev. Han Chung-Ryeol, a Chinese pastor of Korean descent, who ministered on the border town of Changbai since the early 1990s, was reportedly on Pyongyang's most-wanted list as early as 2003 for his faith-based charitable work.

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Han fed and sheltered thousands of North Koreans over the years — many of whom had fled the famine-stricken country in search of food and jobs. One of them, Sang-chul, shared his story in a short documentary from The Voice of the Martyrs, as a way to encourage believers around the world to participate in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Sunday, Nov. 3.

"In primary school, we were taught that all missionaries were terrorists," Sang-chul shares in the video through a translator. "They told us that a missionary will be nice to you at first, but when they get you into their homes, then they will kill you and eat your liver."

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The North Korean said he didn't have work or food in his village so he snuck across the mountain border into China, picking mushrooms along the way in hopes of selling them in a market. He ran into Han, who offered to sell them and give him the money. Sang-chul knew something was different when the pastor didn't cheat him out of any money, but he wondered why a Chinese citizen would help him, knowing the danger.

"We hope that our sacrifice, when the day comes, will be worthwhile, just like it was for Pastor Han."

— Sang-chul

"It is because I am a Christian," Han reportedly said, causing the North Korean to be fearful of him.

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And then one day Han told him: "God is real. There is hope for every person," but he wondered why he would say "Hananim," the word for God.

"I could not believe he would say that word, 'God.' Nobody says that word," Sang-chul continued. "We know that it is an act of treason...and can lead to soldiers coming in the night."

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Eventually, Sang-chul asked him for a Bible and shared about the gospel with his wife and best friend, who both found hope before he received the tragic news that Han was stabbed and axed to death by North Korean assassins, who were honored for their mission.

"Pastor Han gave his life, but he gave hope to me and to many other North Koreans," Sang-chul said. "And despite the ever-present danger, many of us will continue to share the message that God is real."

The North Korean Christian concludes: "We hope that our sacrifice, when the day comes, will be worthwhile, just like it was for Pastor Han."

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VOM encourages people to "please pray for the courageous Christians who risk their lives daily to share the hope of Christ in North Korea."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.