Sunday, 1 June 2008
NORTH KOREA -Without prayer, the church can’t survive. North Korean Christians suffer the worst persecution of anywhere in the world
In North Korea, the most closed country in the world, the state is the source and purpose of life. It decides where you live, where you work, what sport or musical instrument you play, what you eat and whether you eat.
The deceased former leader, Kim Il Sung, and the current leader, Kim Jong Il, are honoured as gods. Under these 'morning stars', Christians risk their lives every day.
At least 200,000 people suffer in harsh concentration camps. Between 50,000 and 70,000 are Christians, reckons 'Brother Peter', who has many contacts with the North Korean underground church.
Korea used to have a large Christian population. The capital, Pyongyang, was even called the 'Jerusalem of the East'. But since the end of the Korean War in 1953, things have changed. Of the 20 million people in North Korea, only 200,000–400,000 are Christians.
Sculptures and portraits of Kim Il Sung are on display everywhere. North Koreans and even tourists are expected to bow to these idols.
Kim Il Sung, the so-called saviour and morning star, promised to make his country an example for the world and turn it into the first paradise on earth. But in 1995, one year after his death, starvation hit North Korea, and at least 2 million people there have died from hunger in the past 10 years, 10% of the total population.
"The famine had a significant impact on North Korean society," reports Brother Peter. "The state couldn't take care of its people any more: the food distribution was dismantled, so an underground market arose and the government didn't take action against it.
"A lot of people started to cross the Tumen River, the border with China. The food they were able to carry back to North Korea was sold on the black market. This sign of weakness damaged the glory of Kim Jung Il. Not all people believe in him anymore. They saw him building monumental buildings whilst people were starving."
Smugglers and defectors who are caught are often tortured to death, according to Peter:
"Their last days or weeks are terrible. The North Korean authorities submit them to days of interrogation and severe beatings without giving them food and water. Eventually they die.
"Survivors are sent to the worst political camps."
When refugees succeed in crossing the border, they are helped mostly by Christians.
"There was a time when they knew they had to look for buildings with a cross on them. They heard from other people who managed to go to China that these people were willing to help them," Peter relates.
"But the Chinese government found this out and are now very upset. In the border area, they are really hunting for North Korean refugees. The police put pressure on the churches. Churches will lose their registration if they are not willing to turn in illegal North Koreans, and churchgoers face imprisonment for up to five years.
"Many Chinese and Korean-Chinese congregations choose to cooperate with the authorities. I can't tell any more which churches we can still trust.
"Another difficult factor is the number of North Korean secret agents who are trained to disguise themselves as Christian refugees. Only by God's grace are we able to tell the difference between a real and a fake refugee."
People who are able to travel between China and North Korea manage to spread contact addresses among North Koreans who want to flee. If their escape succeeds, they arrive in a whole different world.
"North Koreans are indoctrinated beyond imagination. Their perception of Christians and Christianity is completely distorted.
"At primary and secondary school, even at college, the teachers tell made up stories about evil Christians. One story that is frequently told is about a Christian mission that worked during the 30s in North Korea who had a vineyard with much fruit. One day some children went to the vineyard and ate some of the fruit. The missionaries found out and caught the children. They took a toxic substance and wrote on their forehead the word 'thief,'" said Peter.(Article continued as a Comment)