Fourth-generation evangelist points gospel at North Koreans
By John H. Adams, The Layman Online, February 17, 2005
Whether you call it genes or a passion for the gospel, Ben Torrey is now doing his father’s will.
Ben TorreyHe is preparing for what could be one of the significant evangelical events of the 21st century – the spread of the gospel to North Koreans, who have been isolated from the rest of the world for more than a half century in the spiritual and literal darkness under the oppression of the communist dictatorship.
Torrey is the director of the Fourth River Project. There’s a story behind his role and the name of his organization.
Ben Torrey is the great-grandson of R.A. Torrey, one of the great Moody evangelists. His grandfather was R.A. Torrey II, a Presbyterian missionary to China. His father was R.A. Torrey III, an Episcopal priest and founder of the Jesus Abbey in South Korea.
And Ben Torrey?
He has been a computer systems consultant and administrator of a small Christian school.
True to the Torrey tradition, he opted for another denomination, the four-parish Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America. He is an associate minister of the EACNA congregation in Rockville, Conn.
In 2002, his father became ill and lapsed into a coma. Ben Torrey flew to South Korea to be at his bedside, arriving one day before his father died. The Christians at Jesus Abbey, who have begun a ministry to equip South Koreans to spread the gospel after the communist government collapses or allows traffic across the border, asked Ben Torrey to carry on his father’s ministry.
He eventually accepted the challenge, but not without some major concerns.
“I wanted to be very cautious and not attribute anything to the Lord until I had confirmed it,” he told The Layman Online. “I discovered that I really began to grieve for North Korea. With this grief came what I consider to be a word of knowledge: North Korea would be opening very soon, quite possibly similar to the Berlin wall.”
Torrey said he also realized that Christians are not ready for North Korea’s opening. “We’re not ready for thousands of people rushing over to the North and doing more harm than good.”
He determined that his role would be to help prepare men and women for presenting the gospel to North Koreans whose minds and hearts have atrophied in the darkness of the communist rule. The North Koreans live in constant fear of being executed or sent to slave camps if they depart from the demands of their “dear leader” Kim Jong Il, a tyrant who now claims to have produced nuclear weapons and demands that his people regard him as divine.
Daunting as the task seemed, Torrey took up his father’s mantle, but soon realized he was off on a costly venture.
“Over a year ago, I was worrying about finances, praying as I was going through my morning routine,” Torrey told The Layman Online. “I asked the Lord to provide for our finances. In my mind, the thought came – it was so clear, it was almost audible – ‘You are my workman, and I will see that you have what you need.'”
Later that day, Torrey said he offered another prayer: “OK, Lord, what do you want me to pray for?” This time, he says the message was, “‘Pray for the unity of the Korean church.’ I don’t think I have enough faith for that … It’s easier to pray for eight million dollars.”
But Torrey dove into the ministry on the wings of prayer and little money. Soon, using his high-tech skills, he had a Fourth River Web site up and running, www.thefourthriver.org. Today, the Web site is a veritable library on the differences between North Korea and South Korea. It includes a powerful slide show, narrated by Torrey, of the two nations that were severed by war.
One slide is a NASA nighttime satellite photo that shows a stark difference between South Korea and North Korea. South Korea is bright with the light from homes, businesses and industry. North Korea is almost totally dark. The photo demonstrates the contrast between an economically growing country and a nation in the darkness of poverty and oppression.
That photo also points to the genesis of the theme of the Fourth River Project. The Jesus Abbey is in eastern South Korea on mountain property crossed by three rivers. The “Fourth River” is the “River of Life” that will flow into North Korea, Torrey says.
While limited in resources, in less than two years Torrey has managed to post a comprehensive collection of articles, including his own research; demographics on the differences between South Korean and North Korea; and the need to prepare missionaries for evangelizing those who have been enslaved by the communist government. He has also been a gadfly at mission conferences sponsored by denominations throughout the United States. And he has made several trips back to North Korea to help in evangelism training at Jesus Abbey.
Torrey has begun to light some fires. His Web site accommodates online responses. A few excerpts:
- I also found my way here from the NK missions site [www.nkmissions.com, the World Network for North Korean Missions]. I am an American, currently living in Seoul and I am praying for the walls of NK to come down so that we can go in with the gospel. I don’t know Korean yet, but am in the process of learning.
- I am a 2nd year economics major at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I have a heart for North Korea. I have committed myself to a 26-day prayer for North Korea. If the Lord opens the door to North Korea, I have the heart to go and bring the Gospel to the nation. My heart is so desperate right now that I want to do whatever I can to help out any efforts that are going on in North Korea – or in preparation for it.
- After turning Christian, I had a strong interest in missionary work, but it was only this past summer when I found myself engulfed in the entire N. Korean situation. At the time, I randomly stumbled upon an article about several N. Koreans in 1997 who came to the south by boat. It turns out some of them are my relatives. The reality of it really hit me and I was convinced that N. Korea will be a good part of my future ministry.
Pouring over his father’s writings, most of which were in Korean but have been translated into English and are posted on his Web site, Torrey offers an exhaustive look at the culture of North Korea. Understanding that culture is necessary for effective evangelism, he says.
In one of his analyses, titled “The Particular Challenge of Reconstructing North Korean Society,” Torrey addresses junche, a supposedly scientific concept that “claims to be an ideology … that explains reality and provides formulas for shaping that reality. It is, however, religious in nature … and requires commitment even in the face of apparent contradictions. It has an ultimate objective – national self-reliance – and engenders self-sacrifice.”
Understanding how Kim Jong Il uses junche to manipulate and repress North Koreans is necessary for evangelism, he says.
Torrey says his goal is to be a part of a larger picture in which Christians unify in their commitment to present the gospel to North Koreans and help them reshape their nation on Biblical principles.
“North Korea is a nation and society that has become thoroughly pathological,” he says. “Every aspect from the lowliest individual to the greatest institutions needs transformation and healing. This is not something that can happen overnight. In fact, it may take generations.”
“As the bankruptcy of the old structures in North Korea is acknowledged,” Torrey says, there will be a rush to embrace the new. This could lead to snapping up anything that looks interesting. We need to be ready for this as well with structures to offer that address the needs, are built on solid foundations and quick to prove their value. If we are not prepared, others will be quick to step into the gap.
“Even here, love will open doors and confirm truth. While others may come with flash and cash, without love, they will quickly lose their luster, but unfortunately not before even more harm is done. So we cannot sit back and wait.”