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'To see them under a religious cult was desperately sad' - Lowestoft rector's emotional trip inside North Korea

Reverend Jeremy Bishop giving a breakfast talk following his sabbatical visit to North Korea.

Reverend Jeremy Bishop giving a breakfast talk following his sabbatical visit to North Korea.

© Archant 2015

It is widely regarded as the world's most mysterious and dangerous society, where its population is thought to be brainwashed to believe everything their rulers tell them and is isolated from the rest of the globe. Yet a Lowestoft man has become one of the few outsiders to get a glimpse inside the planet's most secretive nation after visiting North Korea to pray for its oppressed Christian people.

Jeremy Bishop's pictures from his visit to North Korea.Jeremy Bishop's pictures from his visit to North Korea.

Jeremy Bishop said he came away from his week-long trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) feeling sad and emotional about the plight of the country’s people, who often starve from food shortages.

The rector of St Peter’s Church in Carlton Colville and St Andrew’s Church in Mutford even went further than a recent United Nations (UN) report on the isolated country, which described it as a dictatorship based on a personality cult.

“This is a religious cult, not just a run-of-the-mill personality one,” said Mr Bishop, citing how residents are expected to lay flowers every time they visit a massive Mansudae Grand Monument of former presidents Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, as well as bow in front of them.

He also spoke of how the two Kims are constantly proclaimed to be “eternal” and how homes, schools, workplaces and other buildings must have pictures of the Great Leader - who died in 1994 - in a prominent position.

Jeremy Bishop's pictures from his visit to North Korea.Jeremy Bishop's pictures from his visit to North Korea.

One factory Mr Bishop visited even went to the lengths of placing a fan nearby a picture of the Great Leader to ‘cool’ him.

But despite all the rumours of what life is really like in North Korea, the 61-year-old said it was a country “full of internal contradictions”.

In a talk to the Lowestoft Christian Men’s Network breakfast at Kirkley’s Hotel Hatfield last Saturday, he said: “It is very easy to watch the TV programmes and military parades, hear they have nuclear weapons and think that these are scary people from outer space who are somehow not human like us.

“The people are not mad - they may have been indoctrinated, cut off and have very limited access to information from the outside world, but they are human like you and me.”

Mr Bishop said he and a team from the Open Doors charity, which supports Christians living under persecution, were surprised they were able to spend a week discreetly praying around the country in July last year.

However they were closely watched by guides all the time, and Mr Bishop suspected their hotel rooms were also bugged.

Mr Bishop added: “I’m not an emotional man - I’m a typical phlegmatic Englishman, but I came back feeling quite emotional.

“To see them sometimes scrabbling in the earth, to see people struggling to get enough food to eat, to see them under a religious cult was desperately sad.

“It was kind of like they were imprisoned, but have done nothing wrong.”

Are you embarking on a charity mission? Tell The Journal by calling 01502 525820 or email andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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