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Imagine an alternate universe where the American Civil War ended in stalemate with a formal truce to temporarily stop the fighting. As a result of the war, the American North and South became their own countries even though they shared the same language, the same history of independence, and the same Western European heritage. And because they were still technically at war, the two nations militarized their borders, planted mines to prevent people from crossing, and focused on restocking/upgrading their military arsenals. The threat of war always loomed over both nations.

In this alternate universe, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brother and sisters—all are separated by war. No cross-border communication or visitations are allowed. The South went on to double-down on slavery and classism (among rich and poor white people) while the North went on to prosper through open borders, international trade, and free markets.

The South memorialized its war heroes and founders such that to even speak ill of them in any way resulted in jail time, not just for you but three generations of your entire family. The oppressive atmosphere in the South got so bad black slaves and poor white workers began illegally crossing the border into the North. Huge networks of underground railroads developed to rescue them. The North offered permanent shelter, community support, and even financial assistance. The South became even more upset and began executing its own citizens caught trying to cross the border.

Eventually, the Christian faith was replaced by religion that was nationalistic and based on a personality cult. A syncretized faith based on Southern lore erased the remnants of Christianity in the South. The North began sending Christian missionaries and humanitarian workers—the only people insanely committed enough to go—across the border with Mexico to provide whatever support they could for the struggling South. Meanwhile, the South continued to enslave its own citizens and threaten the free world with war.

After 60 years of this cold war, the leaders of both nations finally decide to meet face-to-face for the first time in the North. There’s skepticism, an outright sense of betrayal, by many in the North—both its citizens and also former Southerners who escaped. It hurts to see our president playing nice with a war criminal, ruthless tyrant, and genocidal maniac. Yet, here we are. At least they’re talking. Can something good come out of this? Only the Lord knows. All we can do is watch, hope, and pray.

Living in the Tension Between Caution and Hope

I’m reminded of Jesus’s words from Matthew 10:16 where he says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” As an international relations realist, I join most academics, policymakers, and think tanks in questioning North Korea’s true motives for these efforts toward peace.

I’m skeptical, almost cynical, of anything Kim Jong Un says regarding peace, reunification, and human rights given the Kim regime’s history of lying, deceit, and subterfuge (“be wise as serpents”). But as a Christian I’m optimistic and hopeful that our King Jesus can accomplish anything (“be innocent as doves”), even transforming Kim’s heart so that one day we can sit together at Christ’s wedding feast with the church (Rev. 19:6-9).

Living in this tension isn’t easy, but I believe this approach most honors Christ.

How We Can Be Praying

1. Pray for the persecuted church in North Korea. Despite these recent peace talks, North Korea continues to remain the most dangerous country in the world for Christians. While our initial reaction might be to pray for their liberation, please keep in mind that many North Korean Christians are also praying for us in the West. As one North Korean pastor said in an interview with the Voice of the Martyrs Korea,

You pray for us? We pray for you! That’s the problem with you American Christians and South Korean Christians! You have so much, you put your faith in your money and in your freedom. In North Korea we have neither money nor freedom, but we have Christ and we’ve found he’s sufficient. . . . [North Koreans] don’t pray for a regime change. They don’t pray for freedom and money. They pray for more of Christ and to mirror more of Christ in their life. That’s what we should be praying for ourselves as well.

2. Pray for North Korean defectors around the world. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have already escaped into China, while roughly 40,000 more have found refuge in South Korea. North Korean defectors in China are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, regularly subject to human and sex trafficking because of their statelessness—China doesn’t want them and North Korea wants to execute them. North Korean defectors in South Korea and other westernized nations also continue to see unusually high rates of suicide as they struggle to adapt in the free world.

3. Pray for the recent peace summit and the future summit with President Trump. It’s almost redundant to mention how much is at stake with these talks. As usual, the most vulnerable—political and religious prisoners and the poor masses in North Korea—would feel the brunt of North Korea’s wrath if they withdraw once more. If the summits fail to deliver a peaceful resolution to the war, the threat of nuclear attack on the United States or on the Korean Peninsula will remain indefinitely.