01 January 2024

In North Korea, Ji Ho counts the cost of following Jesus every day 

North Korea is the hardest place to follow Jesus – so what does being a Christian look like there? And how can you be part of their story?

Ji Ho* vividly remembers the moment she saw her father for the last time. North Korean security agents had ransacked their house. They didn’t find what they were looking for in the house – but they did discover something by digging deep in the garden. 

“They found the book, wrapped in plastic,” she remembers. “One of the policemen came inside, holding the book. He kicked over our small table as we cowered in the corner, flinging dishes everywhere, and threw the book down at my father’s feet.” 

Ji Ho never learned precisely where her father went, and she didn’t even know what the ‘secret book’ was. “I didn’t see what was so bad about it,” she says. “My father loved to read me stories and sayings out of the book – about a wise man who sat on a mountain and began to teach. Why would a lesson about kindness be so dangerous in North Korea?” Only years later did she realise it was a Bible. 

North Korea: the most dangerous place to be a Christian 

In some ways, Ji Ho was ‘fortunate’. When a Bible is found in the home of a North Korean, it usually means the whole family is in terrible danger.  

That’s because North Korea is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, according to the Open Doors World Watch List. Each year, this list ranks the countries where choosing to follow Jesus means facing high or extreme levels of persecution. 

Being discovered to be a Christian in North Korea is effectively a death sentence. Either believers will be deported to labour camps as political criminals – where they face a life of hard labour which few survive – or they are killed on the spot. The same fate often awaits family members. There are believed to be tens of thousands of Christians held in labour camps across the country. 

“North Koreans have been taught to hate Christianity their whole lives,” says Brother Simon*, an Open Doors local fieldworker. “They are officially taught that Christians, especially pastors and missionaries, are spies or enemies. Christians are targeted and must be rooted out and eradicated in North Korea.” 

Ji Ho finally learns about Jesus 

Ji Ho’s father took an enormous risk sharing his faith with her. Children are often trained by their teachers to look out for any clues of Christianity, and encouraged to inform on their parents – which is why Ji Ho’s father never mentioned Jesus by name.  

But God did not forget Ji Ho. There was one thing the secret police didn’t find – her father’s hidden radio. One evening, she was turning the dial and found a new station. She realised, with a start, that they were talking about the same ‘wise man’ her father had told her about. The one who was in the secret book. They called Him ‘Jesus’. 

From then on, she listened every chance she got. “As I listened, I became more and more convinced,” she says. “This Jesus was the great teacher that my father had been trying to tell me about. Jesus wanted to be my Lord and Saviour – and I wanted to follow Him, in the same way my father had.” 

How you can stand with Ji Ho 

It’s not just the discovery of her faith that Ji Ho needs to worry about – it’s also the extreme poverty in North Korea, which threatens huge numbers of people. “The main problem is the need for daily life necessities to survive,” says Brother Simon. “Absolute poverty has flourished throughout the country.” 

Remembering Jesus’s words about helping her brothers and sisters, Ji Ho has made extraordinary sacrifices. “As I continued to learn more about Jesus, I also found that my life was changing in other ways. I was still hungry, but I started to share my food,” she says. “I knew I could give up some of my food to my neighbours who didn’t have a garden. I hoped this might show them in some way that Jesus loved them.” 

Thanks to the prayers and gifts of people like you, Open Doors partners like Brother Simon are able to support North Korean Christians through secret networks in China with vital food and aid and shelter, as well as discipleship training for North Korean refugees at safe houses in China.   

*Names changed. Ji Ho’s story is based on several true accounts of life in North Korea, to protect any specific person from being identified. 

Please pray
  • That God will continue to sustain thousands of North Korean Christians with food and aid through Open Doors secret networks in another country 
  • For North Korean believers to have opportunities to share the love of Christ with their neighbours, and to stay strong in their faith 
  • For strength, encouragement and even joy for all Christians facing extreme persecution around the world. 
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