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North Korea: Risking it all

20 January 2017

Risking it all

Pyongyang, North Korea's capital city, was known as 'the Jerusalem of the East' in 1907. There was a great revival, and hundreds of churches were started.

Over a century later, that's hard to believe. North Korea is now the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Anyone who is even suspected of following Jesus faces imprisonment, torture - even death.

And yet, despite these terrible risks, the church in North Korea is enduring - and growing. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans follow Jesus in secret. Open Doors workers provide these believers with vital aid, and often their only contact with the outside world. The risks our workers are taking are greater than ever. But your prayers and support make their work possible, and show our North Korean brothers and sisters that they aren't forgotten.

Holy rice and miraculous escapes

Life in North Korea is incredibly hard, even for those who aren't Christians. Every year there are natural disasters, with droughts in the dry seasons and flooding and mud slides in the rainy seasons. Harvests are poor. North Korea operates a 'military first' policy for distributing food and resources, meaning that ordinary people are often left to go hungry. But sometimes there isn't even enough for the soldiers. It's estimated that famine has killed between two and three million people in North Korea since the early 1990s.

Despite their often meagre resources, Christians in North Korea perform a practice they call 'holy rice'. This means they take a little of their food, even if they don't have much themselves, and share it with others who are in even greater need. Your support and prayers enable our local workers to smuggle food into North Korea to help them survive.

Trying to find enough food for their families is just one of many challenges faced by Christians in North Korea. Their lives are constantly scrutinised by the Inminban, a neighbourhood watch system in which the leader writes reports on their neighbours, trying to work out if anyone is disloyal to the ruling regime. Daring to believe that there is a higher authority than the nation's leader, Kim Jong-un, is completely unacceptable; Christians often don't even tell their children about their faith in Jesus until they are older for fear that they might let something slip.

And when you know what kind of fate awaits those who are discovered, you can understand why. If someone is even suspected of being a Christian, their entire family will disappear, sometimes up to three generations. They may be executed. Often they are sent to horrific labour camps where torture and rape are common practices. We estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in these camps.

An Open Doors worker spoke to a family who were forced to work as slaves when their faith was discovered. They told him, "We thought God had forgotten us. How else could he allow us to suffer so much? Every day we worked and at night we needed to find our own food to survive. We wanted to give up on God and deny our faith."

But for this family, a miracle happened. They were released, and local Christians, supported by Open Doors, were able to help them resettle. The family said, "We just found out that God has mobilised Christians outside this country to pray for us and help us financially. We are astonished that God loves us so much that He uses brothers and sisters we don't know to support us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

Worth the risk

The Open Doors North Korea coordinator, a man we'll call Simon, recently spoke to us about the work we do supporting North Korean Christians. "Their understanding of the Bible may be limited, but their faith runs deep," he tells us. "There are so many unknown heroes in North Korea and they are able to withstand torture."

When asked how we can know this, he explains, "We hear it from people inside the country. When a Chinese mission worker is captured in China and brought to North Korea, it usually doesn't take long before there's a wave of arrests in North Korea. The North Korean people this person was connected to are then taken to prison and tortured as well. But usually they don't arrest new people [when a North Korean Christian is captured]. That means the North Korean Christians didn't talk despite the torture."

Many North Koreans risk their lives to make the dangerous and illegal journey over the border into China in search of work or food to take back to their families. Others, mainly women and girls, are lured into travelling to China by human traffickers who then sell them into marriage or prostitution.

But it's in China that many North Koreans hear the gospel for the first time. Simon says, "We still operate safe houses in China where we disciple North Korean Christians. I can't share with you how many exactly. Those disciples, when they are arrested, don't collapse but remain faithful."

Kim Jong-Un's government has dispatched hundreds of security officials around the border between North Korea and China. They are tasked with kidnapping these 'defectors' from North Korea and taking them back to be punished.

And it's not only the North Korean people themselves who are in danger - these security officials also kidnap and kill those who are supporting North Koreans. An example of this was the murder of Pastor Han Choong Yeol, a Korean-Chinese pastor who lived in Chiangbai, a town on the Chinese side of the border with North Korea. Han was active in helping North Korean refugees by giving them food, medicines, clothes and other goods they needed for survival back in North Korea. He was murdered on 30 April 2016 by North Korean assassins.

Pastor Han's murder wasn't just getting rid of an opponent. This was a warning to everyone attempting to help North Korean refugees, including Open Doors workers. Our work with North Korean believers, smuggling in vital aid and Bibles, and supporting those who escape to China, has become increasingly dangerous. But when we asked Simon if he thought it was time for us to stop this work, his answer was 'no'. "We will never abandon the North Korean church," he said. "God has called us to do this work."

How to help the church in North Korea survive

When we hear about North Korea, it almost doesn't seem real; the secret agents, megalomaniac dictators and prison camps sound like something from a film, or a terrible nightmare. And yet, this is the horrific reality for the millions of people who live there - a nightmare they can't wake up from.

But we know our prayers make a real difference to North Korean believers. Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, says, "Our prayers can go where we cannot. There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray." North Korea may be the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, but not even Kim Jong Un and his most deadly secret agents can hold back the hand of God.

And by giving a gift, you can enable courageous Open Doors workers to bring vital aid to help North Korean believers survive - your support could literally mean the difference between life and death for a believer facing starvation. Your gift could put a Bible in the hands of a believer who desperately wants to read the Word of God, even in a place where it should be completely impossible to access. And your prayers and gifts show our brothers and sisters in North Korea that they are loved by God and by us.

Every £24 can provide three Bibles to help North Korean believers keep their faith alive.

Every £41 can help provide emergency food, medicines and clothes for a North Korean family.

One North Korean believer told us: "When we received your materials and support, we were filled with Jesus' love and grace. We are passionate to do our utmost to help the underground church in North Korea and feel so thankful for what you have done. We - underground believers - are weak and powerless. However, through your support and prayers, we become stronger."

Thank you for helping us strengthen our church family in North Korea. None of our work would be possible without your support and prayers.

Please pray:

  • That God will make seeing eyes blind and that North Korean Christians will not be discovered
  • For strength and comfort for imprisoned believers, and that they will soon be free
  • That North Korean Christians will be brave enough to own a Bible, and for their protection as they read it in secret
  • That God will enable Open Doors workers to smuggle more Bibles to North Koreas believers, and protect Open Doors workers as they smuggle in food and other vital supplies to our brothers and sisters.

More News from North Korea:

Find out more about persecution in North Korea.