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North Korea is turning 70 - but there isn't much to celebrate for the nation's starving people

10 September 2018

How does a country celebrate its birthday?

On Sunday 9 September it was 70 years since the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established in 1948. John Choi*, a Christian from North Korea who now lives in the UK, says, “It’s a national holiday in North Korea. People will have the day off, which is nice considering that the average North Korean works for 10 days before they get a day off. During ‘mobilisation periods’, like when Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump fell out last year, they have to work non-stop.”

But despite the celebrations, many experts are warning of an impending food crisis after UN sanctions have restricted banking and shipping to the country. Humanitarian aid has ground to a halt and organisations which have been working in North Korea for many years have pulled out. North Korean state media has warned of an ‘unprecedented natural disaster’ due to the heatwave earlier this summer.

The support and prayers of people like you enable Open Doors secret workers to smuggle food into North Korea – enough to keep 60,000 people alive.

£58 can provide food, medicine and clothes to support a North Korean family for a month.

Boy sitting in a field

“In the famine of the 1990s as many as 3.5 million people died of starvation. Many families were ripped apart, including mine,” says John Choi. “As an eight-year-old I had to survive several years on the streets and finding food was my only goal in life.

“People are worried. They expect a smaller harvest this year caused by the serious drought. There has been a constant hunger in North Korea but if the sanctions and lack of internal resources continue then increased hunger rates are inevitable.”

North Korean Christians choose to share the little resources that they have with those who have even less. One Chinese worker who has been involved in missions among North Koreans says, “A leader felt called to reintroduce the concept of ‘holy rice’, a practice whereby rice is set apart for use in God’s kingdom. Ever since, these Christians don’t consume all the food they receive from us. They save some to give to people who are even worse off than them.”

Hunger has become an ever-present enemy for most of the North Korean population. A kilo of rice costs more than twice the average monthly salary. Other daily necessities are outrageously expensive. There are black markets if there is food available, but the prices are usually unaffordable.

A contact inside North Korea told Open Doors, “These days our province people are suffering with severe starvation and hunger. Most people suffer from malnutrition. Furthermore, we can’t use our stoves, because there’s no firewood.

“Cholera is fast spreading due to impure water and bad hygiene. There are hundreds of patients who are suffering. More than half of them are young children and elderly patients. People are dying of starvation and from various diseases.”

Your support and prayers are helping our North Korean brothers and sisters to keep going, even in the face of this crisis. One believer told us, “We cannot imagine how we’d be able to survive without your concern, guidance, support and love for our believers. Whenever we face strong storms of difficulty, we remember that you care for us. Through your love and care, we break through any circumstance, just like spring breaks through the ice cold winter.”

Stand with your church family in North Korea

North Korea is number one on the 2018 World Watch List, our annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. North Korean Christians must keep their faith completely secret. If they are discovered, they face imprisonment, torture, and even death. There are between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians being held in horrific labour camps in North Korea, simply for daring to believe in Jesus.

And yet, despite the risks they face, Open Doors estimates that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 courageous secret Christians in North Korea, who believe that following Jesus is worth the risk.

You can make a difference to our church family in North Korea. You can stand with them in prayer, knowing that there is nowhere too dark or too dangerous for the hand of God to reach. You can make sure others know what is happening to our church family in North Korea - bring your friends to Standing Strong, where they can hear Hannah* share her amazing story of surviving a North Korean labour camp.

And incredibly, you can put food, medicines and Bibles into the hands of a North Korean believer, through Open Doors secret workers. It should be impossible, but they are keeping 60,000 secret believers alive by smuggling food into the country.

Please pray:

  • That God will provide for the people of North Korea
  • For protection for Open Doors secret workers as they smuggle food and other supplies into the country
  • That God will be at work in the heart of Kim Jong-un, and that one day soon that people of North Korea will be free.

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Find out more about persecution in North korea