March 22, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Liberty University welcomed North Korea human rights activist Dr. Suzanne Scholte to Convocation on Wednesday to speak on modern-day persecution in North Korea.
Scholte serves as the chairman for the North Korea Freedom Coalition, which works to provide freedom and aid to North Koreans suffering under the Kim Jong-Un regime. She is also the president of the Defense Forum Foundation and the vice-chairman of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Because of her work to help North Koreans, she received the Seoul Peace Prize in 2008.
Liberty School of Law Dean Morse Tan, an expert on bioethics and human rights in North Korea, introduced Scholte to the Convocation stage. He said she is widely known as the “mother of North Korean refugees and defectors.” Before coming to Liberty last year, Tan served as ambassador at large for the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice.
Beginning her speech with a brief history of Korea, Scholte described how Christianity originally played a significant role in the country in the early 20th century and even played a part in its independence from Japan in 1919.
Following the Second World War, however, Korea was split into two countries with Kim Il-Sung taking control as a dictator in North Korea. Once in power, Scholte said he manipulated the Christian faith to assert himself as God, replacing both the Apostles’ Creed and the 10 Commandments with statutes and creeds of his own. He then used deceit and cruelty to persecute Christians and send them to prisoner camps.
Scholte argued that while South Korea provides enormous avenues for the Gospel, the current North Korean government, headed by the grandson of Kim Il-Sung, continues the persecution started decades ago.
“Having twisted the Holy Trinity into a perversion of worship, this regime is an affront to what God created,” she said, noting that North Koreans face the constant threat of government surveillance and are not allowed any independent thought. “It is an affront to our God who creates, loves, forgives and redeems because it is a regime that destroys, hates, starves, and enslaves. This is why Christians are drawn to this fight. Standing up for the freedom and human rights of North Koreans is like storming the gates of hell because it is going against one of the most evil regimes in modern history — a God-hating, Christ-rejecting tyranny. This is why there is so much death and destruction in that country. It is a hell on earth.”
Scholte welcomed fellow guests Grace Jo and Seohyun Lee, two women who had themselves fled North Korea, to share about their suffering under the tyrannical government.
Jo, who was born in 1991, described how she and how her family faced horrible famine when she was a child. She said that she remembered going days without anything to eat and solely drinking cold water for sustenance. When her father attempted to alleviate their sufferings by smuggling in rice from China, he was captured and taken by the government in 1997.
Jo recalled one instance in which her family was overjoyed to find six newborn mice and cooked them into a stew because it was the only food that they could find. The stew helped heal her of malnutrition at the time and helped her recover her ability to walk.
Losing two brothers to hunger and an older sister who disappeared and was believed to be captured and sold in China for human trafficking, Jo faced an enormous amount of loss from an early age because of the corruption in her country.
In contrast to the poverty of Jo’s family, Lee was born into a prominent Korean family and had more privileges because of her status. Despite these benefits, she also suffered increased danger and surveillance as a member of a high-ranking family.
“From an early age I learned to restrain my curiosity, my creativity, and my thoughts for the sake of my family members’ safety, but I did everything without complaining,” Lee said. “I took everything for granted.”
Lee did not even question the propaganda and education she had received until a major life event opened her eyes to the lies and deceit. While studying abroad in China, she witnessed her best friend being captured and sent to a prisoner camp because of her father’s relationship with an opponent of the current leader of North Korea. Lee defected from the government along with her family in 2014.
“It was not an easy decision (to defect), but my journey and goal were motivated by a simple reason – I just wanted to protect the people and place I love from the opposing forces, hatred and evil, and I wanted to bring a sense of justice to their loved ones,” Lee said.
After sharing their stories, Jo and Lee answered questions from Scholte.
They described how Christianity was not taught in schools and how some North Koreans, including Jo’s mother, had been brainwashed into believing that Christians were the enemy. They also emphasized that the situation continues to grow worse and has further deteriorated since Kim Jong-Un came to power in 2011. Currently, some Koreans do not even have shoes for the winter because of the extreme poverty.
Jo and Lee concluded by addressing how Liberty students can get involved and help North Koreans through spreading the truth about the dangers of communism as well as fighting for legislation that enables North Koreans to flee to the United States. Jo also noted that she works with both the North Korean Freedom Coalition and the Dissident Project to share the stories of North Korean refugees.
In closing, Dr. Tim Chang, a global studies professor at Liberty and a native of South Korea, invited students to join a Unify Korea Fast and Pray event at 4 p.m. on Thursday on the Montview Student Union steps.