A Church for Security Agents: Bongsu Church in Pyongyang

[imText1]Bongsu Church is the first Christian place of worship built during the communist rule.

In September 1988, North Korean regime constructed the two-storey building with 450 seats in Mankyongdae district, Pyongyang, in order to show the country’s ‘religious freedom’ to foreign visitors of the 13th World Youth and Student Festival in 1989.

The construction cost, which was about half a million NK won at that time (equivalent to a quarter million US $), was contributed by ‘Christian believers around the nation and churches overseas,’ according to the Korean Christians Federation of DPRK.

Bongsu Church is consisted of a head minister, one vicar, 8 elders, 14 deaconesses, 5 deacons and about 300 gatherers.

A construction project of a larger chapel is going on, now. The three-storey new building, which is expected to seat more than 1200 attendants, is being constructed thanks mostly to South Korean Presbyterian churches’ donation of about 4 million dollars.

The cost of construction of the church, ten thousand dollars per a square meter, is much higher than that of a luxury hotel in China (about six thousand per m2).

Here is my personal experience of the Church.

I had lived in Pyongyang from 1996 to 1998. During that time, my cousin introduced me Mr. Hong, a forty two-year old official in the Foreign Ministry.

He was living in a quality apartment (in N. Korean standard) and I befriended with him for about a year. Mr. Hong, since he was born in Pyongyang and had resided abroad for a long period of time, did not know much about how people live outside the capital and asked me a lot of questions about local situation.

Hong was a graduate of North Korea’s most prestigious Mankyongdae Revolutionary Academy and studied French at KPA Security College. Since then, he had been assigned as a National Security Agency liaison officer to the Foreign Ministry.

When he married with a daughter of a senior army officer, Kim Jong Il gave him a wreath and a watch, which was a common gesture by Kim to tame party officials. Hong even served as a deputy chief of mission in DPRK Representative Office in Paris for six years.

In February 1997, Hong was appointed to the Bongsu Church. At that time, I thought the ‘Church’ was a type of state-run trade company, because Hong had been expressing his interest in working at trade department.

Hong spent much more ‘foreign currency certificate (exchanged with US dollar bills, can replace domestic currency in NK)’ compared to when he was working for the Foreign Ministry. He often bought me sushi in ‘foreign-currency-only restaurants.’ So I supposed the ‘Bongsu Church’ a huge trading company.

It was only when I defected from the North to Seoul that I figured out what kind of job Mr. Hong had held in Bongsu Church. He was dispatched to the ‘church’ because he was a trusted security agent.

In Seoul, I watched a number of South Korean Christians having service in the Bongsu Church while visiting Pyongyang. Whatever the southern Christian believers’ true intention of attending the chapel is, the fellow ‘Christians’ in Bongsu Church are, in reality, sent by the North Korean government authorities such as United Front Department of KWP and National Security Agency. It is not probable at all for the state-run Bongsu Church to have a true believer, whether of Christianity or any other kind of religion except for the Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il cult.

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