Demand for the Bible in North Korea has increased during the pandemic - ministry leader

North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un. There are severe penalties for being a Christian or possessing a Bible in North Korea.Reuters/ Damir Sagolj

Some 23,000 Bibles were sent to North Korea during 2020, Voice of the Martyrs Korea has said. 

It marks a lower figure for the ministry than previous years after South Korean officials started clamping down on balloon launches close to the North Korean border, but CEO Dr Eric Foley says that demand for a Bible from individuals in the closed-off communist country rose last year.

While the mass distributions were down, he said hand-to-hand distributions in North Korea had doubled last year, a trend he attributed to fears over Covid-19. 

"On the one hand, the efforts of South Korean authorities to halt all balloon launches, including our Bible launches, decreased mass distribution," said Foley, who has been distributing Bibles to the North for 15 years.

"On the other hand, demand for Bibles from individual North Koreans was higher than in any prior year.

"Regardless of culture, thoughts turn to God anytime life is threatened and the future appears bleak.

"North Koreans, like people everywhere, turned to the Bible for hope in 2020, and they found it there."

A Bible-filled balloon being prepared for launch into North Korea(Photo: Voice of the Martyrs)

Foley is facing charges under the Inter-Korean Exchange Act and the National Safety Law over his involvement in Bible balloon launches into North Korea. 

He said it was too early to tell what impact the legislation would have on balloon launches planned for 2021, but that he was prepared to face charges. 

"The wind and the weather always prohibit balloon launching in January, even if laws were favourable. Thus, our focus this time of year is completely on the many unique Bible distribution opportunities that are only possible in the winter," he said.

"When summer comes and the winds blow north, we will do what we do every summer: evaluate the legal situation, make the best decisions we can, and act transparently."

He said he was not worried about the threat of prosecution.

"If I worried about tomorrow, I would never have gotten into North Korean ministry," he said.

"Today is all God gives to us. My focus is fully on keeping our North Korean Bible supply chain operational today. If tomorrow it is determined that this is a criminal act, then I will joyfully and willingly submit to the consequences."

Foley added that balloon launch bans and coronavirus travel restrictions did not have as much of an impact on the ministry's mass Bible distribution efforts as had been expected. 

He is projecting a 30 per cent increase in mass Bible distribution this year. 

"Every year there are new challenges and new obstacles, but we plan years in advance, anticipating difficulties and working together with Christians in North and South Korea and around the world to develop new technologies and strategies to identify and overcome possible problems," he said.

"We believe the adversity makes us more creative and ultimately more effective. The Lord always finds a way, even in a pandemic."