Thank you for joining North Korean Christians on this journey. Thank you for taking on the challenge with me. Thank you for your support, not just of me, but of thousands of people who only want to love and know God, but they are living in a country where the rules of the land make that incredibly difficult to do. Yet they embrace this as temporary in this corrupt world, and embrace His everlasting love with all their heart and soul and mind, even unto death for some. Here are some details of what your donations will go towards:
Every £20 can provide Bible study materials for two courageous North Korean believers, to build their faith and bring them comfort.
Every £35 could go towards broadcasting Christian radio programmes into North Korea, with the potential to reach tens of thousands with the hope of the gospel.
Every £58 can provide food, medicine and clothes to support a North Korean family for a month, helping them survive the long harsh winter.
And after a recent trip I paid to the South of the peninsula – the Republic of South Korea – I can confirm that the winter is COLD. I spent a day in Busan, before taking the train up to Seoul, and with just that move from South to North there was a noticeable drop in temperature. As I went hiking in the national park, Bukhansan, on my final day, I was thinking about those people even further North, beyond the border, as I struggled to drink from my frozen water bottle. I wondered whether they had insulation to protect against ice freezing their own precious resources, or enough warmth to staying healthy for the season in their homes. It’s easy to start thinking about the hardships some people suffer in facing the elements, when you’re up a mountain and facing them yourself!
Yet Koreans have faced these temperatures and hardships for winter after winter, and their unique method of facing the elements has formed Korean culture since the Bronze Age. Now being designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage, the ondol or gugeul system of underfloor heating was first discovered at an archaeological site in Unggi, Hamgyeongbuk-do, in present North Korean territory. It’s a system of fire, flues, stones and chimney that uses the conduction, radiation and convection properties of heat to distribute hot smoke from the fire beneath the floor.
The fire itself is not contained within the room to be heated. It is usually found in the kitchen, and therefore also used as the heating source for cooking. I love how this article puts this: ‘This system is unique in its method because it heats a room, or living space, from the outside, as opposed to the typical Western-style heating system, which dictates that the heat should come from inside the room which you are trying to heat. It achieves this, heating a space from outside, through its structure. Each part of its structure provides a specific service; a synergy takes place.’ (http://gwangjunewsgic.com/features/a-history-and-use-of-ondol-koreas-traditional-heating-system/ (visited 20/01/2019))
This system survives in modern houses with built-in heating of the floor. It survives in modern Korean culture with built-in value for the floor – don’t wear shoes indoors, sit on the floor, and sleep on the floor. There is a value for the ground and for being low in order to experience warmth that Korea could teach the world. It’s the only way the North Korean church is able to exist, low, ‘underground’ and hidden. There are no mega-churches in North Korea, and no massive conferences with lights, television cameras and amplification systems; there are humble, secretive meetings where Jesus truly becomes everything. He’s worth the risk of death to worship.
For the past few years it has been a firm belief of mine that any opportunity I get in church, or conference, or wherever I have the privilege of gathering with other believers to worship, that Jesus is worth all the volume, the extra and the pizazz we could offer Him. And at the same time I want to offer that volume, extra, pizazz all the more, on behalf of those who can’t. Those who risk it all to simply whisper His name – Jesus. Yet this humble, quiet, only-Jesus worship breaks me every time I think of what it is like. His heart must be so delighted.
Ondol is a beautiful picture of what the church is within the world. Heated from one source, which doesn’t come from inside, the ‘room’ of the world is heated by His goodness and never-ending love. But we, as the church; as His body; as His structure; each part providing our ‘specific service’, we fit together to distribute His ‘heat’ throughout the world. We are all so intricately connected and joined, to show the world His glory.
From Him the whole body is fitted and held together by every supporting ligament. And as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:16.
Ondol, or the modern version of it at least, is HOT! I sweat so much during my nights in Korea, I had to keep my window open, in lows of -7/ -8! The church is supposed to be too. We are designed to show a gloriously good God, and that needs to heat up the world to an uncomfortable level. I was so challenged by my time in Korea, that God wants my life to have such significant impact that people sit up, sweaty and distressed at the holiness of God they see in me, and want to find out why. He wants it for all of us! We are the light of the world, to draw people to our Father with our good works!
That can’t always be done with all-singing, all-dancing fanfares and smoke machines. More often than not it’s done in daily life and small interactions, where righteousness wins out over evil. Often it’s not a raging flame in the front of the room and surrounded by an ornate mantle piece, but a gentle growing burn under your bum that brings you low to enjoy it. That’s likely where it will happen for people in North Korea, but Christians need training and materials, and really to know they are loved and not forgotten, to ensure that they are equipped to distribute His warmth in this world. Thank you for stoking the agungi and helping to distribute His warmth. I pray we all feel Him burning.
Sources consulted: http://www.antiquealive.com/Blogs/Ondol_Korean_Home_Heating_System.html