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Blog post: Behind the smiles of a North Korean


20 February 2018

Written by John Choi, a North Korean refugee living in the UK

She arrived on a cold winter's day at Seoul’s Incheon Airport in her brother’s private jet, a Soviet lyushin-62. Kim Yo-jong, sister and trusted aid to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un attended the opening ceremony of the Olympics and had lunch with the South Korean President. The whole world could see her charming smile. But what’s truly behind it?

A large percentage of the public and the media were quick to say that Kim Yo-jong’s visit represented peace, not destruction. I would welcome it too. My people really need an end to the hunger and oppression. But I’m not so sure the 2018 Olympics have brought us much closer to that new era.

I’ve lived in North Korea for most of my life and can tell you that inside the country, the Olympics are being used for a massive propaganda campaign. On Monday 12 February, the official newspaper of the Worker’s Party published a photo collection of North Korea’s ‘successful visit to the Olympics’. An article described at length how South Korean President Mun Jae-in applauded for North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra. The message given was that Kim Yo-jong led fruitful meetings with President Mun Jae-in during her stay.

This regime has survived for over 70 years, and has used all different types of propaganda strategies against their own people. The truth is, many young people inside the country today understand how life under a democracy is much better than under a dictatorship. Ordinary people are not exactly enthusiastic about the Olympics. They are more concerned about tomorrow’s dinner and feeding their children. They know that their country has probably negotiated extra support, but all that support will go to the ruling classes.

That’s what they see when they see Kim Yo-jong’s smile: the ruling class that only takes care of itself.

What you should see

And what is it that you should see when you see Kim Yo-jong’s smile?

For one, her smile represents a regime that is desperate for survival. One day North Korea threatens the world with nuclear war, the next day they send 22 athletes and 229 cheerleaders to the world’s biggest sporting event. That tells us an awful lot about the regime’s character.

Nobody wants nuclear war. Not even the North Koreans, because it would be suicidal and mean the end of the Kim dynasty. The world doesn’t want to go to war with Kim Jong-un either. So instead they are increasing the international sanctions. Those have some effect: the regime, the high class and middle class can spend less on luxury commodities. Just last month, Pyongyang had to cut off the central heating in many apartments. Rice became scarce.

Kim Yo-jong is perhaps North Korea’s friendly face, and she needs to guarantee more support and a lift of (some) UN sanctions. Unfortunately, none of this will have any effect on the human rights situation the country. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans live and ultimately die in political labor camps, of which we guess there are about 30.

Open Doors estimates there are between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians in those camps. Many of them don’t survive. Christianity is still seen as a political crime.

If only the regime would understand what Christianity is all about. Christians help their fellow country men and women where they can. God is at work in their hearts so that they can show Biblical love despite the circumstances.

Jesus’ love is what’s behind the smile of a North Korean brother or sister.

BE AN ANSWER TO PRAYER FOR A SECRET BELIEVER IN NORTH KOREA

There are three things you can do today to support our persecuted brothers and sisters in North Korea:

  • Pray. For protection and provision for the thousands of secret believers in North Korea, for comfort and strength for those who have been imprisoned for their faith, and that one day soon, the people of North Korea will be free to follow Jesus without fear.
  • Order a free copy of Live Like a North Koreana resource packed with six weeks of daily Bible-based reflections, prayers and challenges. It was designed for Lent, but can be used at any time of year to help you be inpsired by our church family in North Korea and spend time in prayer for them.
  • Give a gift. Through our underground networks Open Doors is able to support tens of thousands of North Korean Christians with food, medicines, clothes, biblical training, radio broadcasts and Christian materials. But none of our work would be possible without the support of people like you. Every £58 can provide food, medicines and clothes to support a family in North Korea for a month.

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Find out more about persecution in North korea