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."
Christian help

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)

1 comment:

Andrew Kenny said...

Article Continued:But after arrival in China, the refugees find that they have almost nowhere to go other than to a Christian's house.
"They are grateful for the Christians who give them shelter, but also full of criticism. Christians who work with North Korean refugees have to accept that they are indoctrinated. It takes a long time before they see through the web of lies into which they were born.
"At first they don't want to hear much about the gospel. Living the life of beasts, their hearts have turned to stone.
"But when we embrace them, cry with them, and they participate in church services and Bible study, something slowly changes. Their hearts are slowly defrosted. They become more human again."

It takes about six to 12 months before a North Korean refugee reaches breaking point. This can be a violent experience, said Peter:
"Sometimes it looks like exorcism. During a Bible study, service or even a normal conversation, suddenly the evil force within this human being is pushed out. The North Korean sometimes starts to weep uncontrollably and accepts Christ."

Some find so much strength in their new faith that they want to go back and evangelise, which is a risky business in North Korea. When a Christian is caught, he and his family are sent to the worst 'labour camps'.
"In North Korea, Christians can only rely on our Lord; their only weapon is the power of prayer. Because it's so dangerous to possess a Bible and so difficult to get one, they learn large parts of God's Word off by heart."

After their secret return to North Korean society, new believers start evangelising their inner circle of friends and family members:
"Because of the famine, people had to start trusting and helping each other in getting and distributing food. They know which friends, neighbours and family members can be trusted and explain the gospel to them.
"Sometimes they form small house churches. With five or six people, they meet secretly in houses, in fields, in forests and in the mountains."
Never safe

But these brave Christians are never safe. Especially for younger Christians, the chances of staying unnoticed are not very high due to their inexperience:
"It's true that sometimes house churches are betrayed. When the police arrest them, there is not much we can do. We can only pray.
"We don't know anything about their faith after they are sent to a camp, but I do know we shouldn't underestimate the power of God. Look at some Chinese Christians who spent 20 or 30 years in labour camps and survived. This is also possible in North Korea," opines Peter.

According to Peter, praying is also one of the ways to evangelise:
"Quite a few North Koreans were given the gift of healing. They make good use of it. I know about high officials who were sent home to die, but who were healed after prayer by local believers. Now these officials are secret Christians."
Many people in the underground church in North Korea are aware of the international Open Doors prayer campaign:
"The fact that other Christians know about them and pray for them gives them so much strength and hope. On behalf of the suffering Christians, I ask you to continue to pray, because without prayer support they can't spread the gospel, don't find the strength to remain faithful and can't distribute Bibles.
"Without prayer the North Korean church can't survive."

‘Frontline’ magazine which features a number of stories from North Korea, in the November edition is available free, by calling Open Doors UK & Ireland on 01993 885400, emailing or going to the UK website at