Published Monday, April 09, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Three men from a downtown Newnan church are leaving Tuesday for North Korea — a country known for being particularly opposed to Christianity.
A 150-member, all-male chorus and orchestra from the Atlanta area will perform in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK, aka North Korea – during their Spring Arts Festival, according to Eddy Oliver, communications specialist with the Georgia Baptist Convention. Lee Chitwood, Sam Cook and L.C. Lane from First Baptist Church of Newnan will be making the trip to the Communist nation in Asia.
Chitwood is First Baptist’s minister of music. Lane, former minister of music at First Baptist, is a music evangelist who has recorded several albums.
The chorus and orchestra, named the Sons of Jubal, “will be one of the largest musical groups of Americans ever to enter the DPRK,” Oliver said.
A recent New York Times blog referred to North Korea as “one of the world’s most implacably closed societies.” This has been particularly true in terms of religion.
“North Korea has been waging war on Christianity ever since the Japanese were driven out of the Korean peninsula in 1945,” according to a report on the Open Doors USA website.
A revival began in the area around Pyongyang in 1907 and continued for almost 40 years. As churches were founded and flourished in the city, Pyongyang often was referred to as “the Jerusalem of the East.”
There were an estimated 500,000 Christians in North Korea in 1945.
The website of Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that reaches out to Christians who are persecuted and monitors Christian persecution around the world, has the following entry on North Korea:
“North Korea’s isolated regime is the most oppressive in the world. North Koreans are indoctrinated with an ideology called ‘Juche,’ a philosophy of self-reliance that centers on worship of the country’s leaders. The population is 99.8 percent Korean, with the remainder being Chinese, ethnic Japanese, and other ethnicities. All groups are systematically prevented from hearing the gospel and are punished for responding favorably.”
The Sons of Jubal was founded in 1954 and consists of volunteer professional musicians, church musicians, educators and institutional leaders from the state of Georgia.
Global Resource Services, Inc. (GRS), a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Atlanta, is coordinating the cultural exchange. Through its “Advocacy for the Arts” program, GRS “is providing opportunities to promote goodwill and reconciliation,” Oliver said.
GRS has already sent three other groups to DPRK, including the Grammy-winning group, Casting Crowns. Oliver said the organization has three main principles: relationships, respect and reconciliation.
“We are excited that this opportunity has come after a decade and a half of experience in DPRK/United States musical exchanges,” said Robert Springs, GRS CEO & president. The Sons of Jubal will also have performances in Beijing, China, which will include a brass choir, handbell choir and vocal ensemble.
“This is a historic opportunity for the group and I am privileged to be a part of this great musical endeavor,” commented Dr. Jon Duncan, conductor of the group for the past 10 years.
The Sons of Jubal have presented concerts in major halls, local churches and communities in the United States, Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Moldova, the Czech Republic and Russia. The group performs an extensive repertoire in the classics, Broadway show tunes, spiritual and contemporary genres.
Chitwood, Cook, Lane, Duncan and the other members of the Sons of Jubal will leave Georgia on Tuesday. They are scheduled to return to Georgia on April 23, Oliver said.