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North Korea: Leader's half-brother dies; missionaries expelled

15 February 2017

Over the past week, North Korea has been hitting the headlines. The half-brother of Kim Jong-un has been killed, ballistic missile testing has caused an international outcry, and missionaries on China's North Korean border have been expelled.

But what does this mean for Christians in the country where believers face the severest persecution?

High-profile North Korean killed

Yesterday, the North Korean leader's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was killed in Malaysia. Although a female suspect has been arrested by Malaysian authorities, no motive for the attack is known. But it has been widely speculated that Kim Jong-nam - who was older than his brother, Kim Jong-un - may have been killed by agents from his country.

The BBC reports that Kim Jong-nam had spoken out in later life against his family's dynastic control of North Korea. In a country where the Kim dynasty are viewed as gods and any questioning of their leadership is strictly prohibited, this would be a capital offence. Kim Jong-nam was also quoted in a book as saying he believed his younger half-brother lacked leadership qualities.

Some argue that Kim Jong-un may have considered his older brother to be a threat to his own leadership. Certainly in 2013, the North Korean leader had his own uncle, Chang Song-thaek, executed for 'acts of treachery'. But as Kim Jong-nam did not pose a threat or a credible rival to Kim Jong-un's leadership, there are questions as to whether the North Korean leader was indeed behind the attack.

Whatever the case, the killing of Kim Jong-nam has served to bring into the fore the ruthlessness of the regime.

Open Doors' regional director for Asia said: "This act is showing again how brutal this regime happens to be. Hopefully this bad act will fuel us with more motivation to pray on behalf of North Korean Christians.

"For the believers inside, they face an ongoing struggle for life, but they are so encouraged with our ongoing help and assistance and most of all our eagerness to pray on behalf of them. Thanks a lot for your essential support."

See below how you can pray for and support North Korean Christians.

China expels South Korean missionaries

Thirty-two South Korean missionaries were expelled from China's border region with North Korea last month, The Guardian has reported.

The missionaries were based in China's north eastern Yanji region and many of them had worked there for more than a decade, South Korean media reports.

South Korea's foreign ministry says it has advised Christian groups about the importance of complying with the laws and customs of the areas where they work. There are thought to be over 1,000 South Korean missionaries in China, most working in the north east, where some help defectors from North Korea to travel to third countries, including South Korea.

"This act is seen as a retribution for the South Korean government's decision to deploy an American missile defence system called THAAD, but will have repercussions for North Korean refugees living and/or hiding in this part of China as well. Allegedly, among other tasks the expelled served those refugees," says Open Doors' analyst, Thomas Muller.

North Korea: The most dangerous country for Christians

Anyone who becomes a follower of Jesus faces imprisonment, torture, and death in North Korea.

Since 2002, every year North Korea has ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for Christians on Open Doors' World Watch List.

Tens of thousands of believers are incarcerated in horrific labour camps, and thousands more keep their faith in Christ a complete secret - often their own family members do not know of their faith.

Led by Kim Jong-un, he is the third generation of the Kim dynasty to have ruled North Korea with an iron grip since 1948. Any suggestion that there is a higher authority than the nation's leader is immediately crushed.

Open Doors works to support North Korean Christians through prayer and practical support.

Source: Open Doors; BBC; World Watch Monitor; The Guardian

Please pray:

  • That God would give the international community wisdom in dealing with North Korea after the killing of Kim Jong-nam
  • That missionaries supporting North Koreans in China's border region would find a way of reaching and ministering to these desperate people
  • That God would walk alongside, uphold and protect North Korean believers facing torture, imprisonment and even death for their faith
  • For Open Doors' work with North Korean Christians, that it would be able to reach the seemingly unreachable to provide hope and support to believers.

More News from North Korea:

Find out more about persecution in North Korea.