North Korea, Balloon Warriors—and a World Held Captive

An inspiring story of a brave defector

seoul, south korea
Lee Min-bok’s home , some 25 miles south of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea, is built out of shipping containers. In his driveway, he parks a five-ton secondhand truck, the bed of which is laden with a large hydrogen tank. The vehicle is a vital tool for Mr. Lee’s life’s work.

Mr. Lee counts himself immensely blessed to be living in South Korea.

In 1991, he escaped from his native North Korea. He was 34 years old and had been working in a government-run agricultural research company when he happened upon a stray leaflet. The piece of paper had made its way into the North from South Korea, and it stated a claim that shocked Mr. Lee: It wasn’t the United States that started the Korean War, as your government constantly says. North Korea started it. Your government is lying to you.

Mr. Lee said he was shaken by these words. He read them again and again, and began asking older North Koreans who lived near the border and remembered the war if the assertion was true. He soon became convinced that it was correct, and that his government was deceiving its people.

A few months later, Mr. Lee escaped into China. Eventually, he made his way into South Korea where he lives today, and where the Trumpet spoke with him.

“I am so happy and grateful to have broken out,” he said.

‘The Diabolical Regime’

Mr. Lee’s gratitude is easy to understand when you consider how abusive the North Korean government is to its people.

Life for most of the country’s 25 million citizens is a slow-motion nightmare. One out of every hundred is imprisoned, mostly on trumped up charges of treason. Prisoners regularly suffer abuse and torture. Even “free” citizens live in grim squalor. The average North Korean lives on $25 to $30 per month. More than three quarters of North Koreans are starving. One out of every three children is severely malnourished, to the point of stunted growth.

And the people are not allowed to leave. Fences and walls surround the nation. Soldiers open fire on people who try to escape. Anyone caught is killed or tortured. And if one individual attempts escape—whether he is successful or not—authorities often brutally punish everyone in his family, including small children.

The regime also controls information. Every word that is printed in any book or newspaper must be approved by the government. Practicing religion is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or death. Every word spoken on radio or tv is censored by or actually written by the regime. The government uses its grip on information to lie to and brainwash its people: This country is paradise, better than any nation on Earth. People in all other countries are racially inferior savages who are far poorer than you. Your leader is a god—the only god, in fact. You should worship and bow to him. You are infantile, and you need his benevolent guidance.

“North Koreans have been enslaved by the leadership’s deception.” —Lee Min-bok
STR/AFP/Getty Images

“The diabolical regime idolizes itself,” Mr. Lee said in an e-mail, adding that the process of brainwashing North Koreans to worship their leaders begins “as soon as they are born.”

From cradle to grave, all North Koreans are taught that the members of the Kim dynasty are their gods. That great numbers of them believe the lies was apparent in 2011, when it seemed that the entire nation was weeping uncontrollably in the streets after Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il died.

“North Koreans have been enslaved by the leadership’s deception,” Mr. Lee said.

Life After Escape

Each year, some few North Koreans manage to escape. Many settle into a new life in South Korea or another country and try to quietly forget the still-ongoing nightmare they left behind.

Mr. Lee could have taken this route after he broke free. Instead he has devoted his life to doing for others what was once done for him. He is trying to penetrate the regime’s deception and tell the North Korean people the truth.

“For me, escaping North Korea was the beginning of a new human life,” he said. “I am determined to share this happiness and freedom with all the people still in North Korea.”

Since the government controls information tightly, breaking through from the outside is not easy. Mr. Lee uses an unconventional method to get his message across the border and inside North Korea.

“Balloons cannot be blocked by radar, heat, radio jammers or border guards,” Mr. Lee said.

On days when the winds blow northward, Mr. Lee drives his truck up to locations near the border. He fills up dozens of huge, cylindrical balloons with hydrogen. To each balloon, he attaches numerous bundles: small amounts of money, computer memory sticks and hundreds of leaflets.

The leaflets explain that the North Koreans are being deceived by the government, that communism and the Juche ideology have failed, and that Mr. Lee has found freedom and hope in his understanding of Christianity. Mr. Lee has invented a timer device that allows each balloon to drop multiple bundles at several different points as it drifts over North Korea’s forested uplands and mountains and across its alluvial plains.

Mr. Lee launches up to 1,500 balloons each year, each carrying some 30,000 leaflets.

And he is not the only “balloon warrior” quietly fighting the propaganda, border guards, secret police, prison camps, torture and executions of the Kim Jong-un regime. About 50 other individuals, most of whom are defectors from the North, are pursuing the same mission. Since the efforts began in 2003, together, these individuals have launched more than 250 million balloons.

“The balloons provide us with a cheap, safe and peaceful way to get the truth into the North,” he said. “They allow us to continuously send news of truth from the outside world.”

The North Korean government abhors the balloons. It considers them an attack on the country, and soldiers along the border sometimes shoot them down. But most get through, and Mr. Lee and the others hope their ongoing campaign will eventually convince the people to rise up for freedom. They hope that once the people are made aware of the regime’s deception, they will work to overthrow the corrupt rulers of the country. The balloon warriors hope their message will convince the people that they can and must be free.

HOPE-FILLED—South Koreans release balloons with messages for North Koreans.

A Microcosm

The largely unknown truth is that, on a spiritual level, almost everyone on Earth is in the same trap as the North Koreans.

In his book Mystery of the Ages, the late Herbert W. Armstrong wrote,

“For almost 6,000 years a civilization has developed, which we call the world. But it has been a world held captive. It has become Satan’s world, though millions have been deceived into believing it is God’s world. To this day, Satan is still on that throne.”

Mr. Armstrong’s understanding of this global spiritual captivity came from the Bible: 2 Corinthians 4:4 states that the “god of this world” is not God but Satan. John 12:31 designates “the prince” of the Earth as Satan. Revelation 12:9 explains that Satan “deceiveth the whole world.”

These and other Bible passages, such as Matthew 4 and Ephesians 2:2, show that the world today is ruled and deceived by a being far more evil than the leader of North Korea. He has deceived mankind into thinking it is free. In reality, mankind is enslaved to him.

“[T]his world has been so completely deceived that it cannot realize what actually has happened to it. “[R]emember, one who is deceived would not be deceived if he were aware of the deception,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in A World Held Captive. “It’s a world held captive, deceived into loving its captivity,” he stated in the booklet’s quip.

Mr. Armstrong was only able to understand this concealed truth because he was divinely led to see through the deception. He escaped it, just as Mr. Lee and some other North Koreans escape their government’s deception and enslavement every year. The Bible shows in such scriptures as John 6:44 that God chooses to free some people from Satan’s deception at this early phase of His plan. They can then see reality for what it is. They are shown the truth, and it makes them free (John 8:32). At a later phase in His plan, all men will have the opportunity to know and be liberated by the truth (1 Timothy 2:4; Revelation 20:12).

Metaphorical ‘Balloons of Truth’

The organization behind the Philadelphia Trumpet works with a goal that parallels the efforts of Mr. Lee and other balloon warriors. We send out magazines like this one you are reading that point readers to Mystery of the Ages and other books explaining the truth about “the world held captive.” We send these books and booklets out freely to anyone who wants to read them. We post links to articles on out on social media platforms and elsewhere on the Internet, striving to make them visible to as many individuals as possible.

We also broadcast episodes of the Key of David on channels that reach across the United States and much of the rest of the world (see page 36). We broadcast radio shows such as Trumpet Daily Radio Show, Trumpet Hour, Watch Jerusalem and Live by Every Word—all of which explain the truth about the “world held captive” and what the solution to that ubiquitous deception is.

Only God’s truth can liberate a person from spiritual deception and give him true freedom. Anything else is not actual freedom.

Each book, booklet, magazine, article, tv program and radio episode could be viewed as a balloon of truth being sent out into the enslaved world. Each could help to educate and liberate the people who find it. Each could help them see the truth. Even if these messages do not immediately reveal the truth to readers, viewers and listeners, they could still give them precious education that will be of great benefit in the near future.

To understand how and why this world was taken captive, and the details of what true freedom is, please order our free reprint “A World Held Captive” by Mr. Armstrong.

The Truth Shall Make You Free

Jesus Christ revealed an amazing truth in John 8:28-29: “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. … I do always those things that please him.”

Christ is saying that He doesn’t do anything of Himself. He only follows His Father’s directions and does what pleases His Father. Many people would say such a mindset is lacking in freedom. That’s a slave mentality! If you’re free, you will do what pleases you!

But Christ disagrees with that reasoning: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (verses 31-32).

Mr. Lee quotes this scripture on the leaflets he drops onto North Korea. Only God’s truth can liberate a person from spiritual deception and give him true freedom. Anything else is not actual freedom. Christ concluded His discussion of true freedom in verses 33 through 36 by saying, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (verse 36).