With reports of increased surveillance and pressure on North Korean defectors living in China, an Open Doors researcher confirms that the situation is worsening.
The researcher, who wished to remain anonymous for their safety, said: “We can confirm that there is intense surveillance in both North Korea and north east China. It seems that the North Korean and Chinese governments are working closely together.” The first Chinese state visit to North Korea since 2005 took place on 20 June 2019, when President Xi Jinping met with Kim Jong-Un.
The most dangerous place to believe
North Korea has been number 1 on the Open Doors World Watch List since 2002, meaning that it has long been the most dangerous nation in the world in which to be a Christian. Even if a North Korean defector manages to escape the country, the threat can be transferred to a family member. North Korea practises collective punishment, meaning that family members are often punished for the actions of a relative.
“Family members of North Korean defectors are being held hostage in their own country,” said the Open Doors researcher. “This could be to keep the defectors from working with human rights groups and churches, or even to pressure the refugees to come back. Sometimes these returning defectors are being trained to become spies and then sent out again. This is not voluntary, of course. They have no choice.”
One such example took place in April 2016, when a woman contacted Pastor Han, a Korean-Chinese who led Changbai church. They had previously been in touch and Pastor Han had helped her, but this time she was forced to betray him: he was brutally murdered.
The secret, growing church
Christians in North Korea must keep their faith completely secret, and often can’t even tell their closest family members that they trust in Jesus. Anyone who dares to believe in a higher authority than the Kim family is considered an enemy of the state and, according to the Open Doors researcher, North Korean secret agents have been more active in targeting South Korean human rights activists and South Korean missionaries who work with North Korean refugees.
And yet the church in North Korea is steadily growing. Open Doors estimates there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians in North Korea, of whom 50-70,000 are suffering horrifying conditions in labour camps. As enemies of the state, Christians are either executed or put to forced labour and often tortured. Most never escape.
“People really question if God is at work in North Korea? How can they ask such a question?”
Open Doors asked two former secret believers, Hana and Jae-Hwa*, what we should tell supporters who have been praying but don’t see any changes for the better in North Korea.
“People really question if God is at work in North Korea? How can they ask such a question?” Hana replied at first. Then she sighed. “Ah, I think I understand. How can you comprehend His work in my country if you have not experienced Him in North Korea?”
Hana is passionate about the reality of what God is doing. “Of course God is at work! Of course prayers help! I am such a weak person. I hardly had any Bible knowledge, but God used me to explain the gospel to others.
“Sometimes, God sent me on the road. I walked for miles and miles, until I saw some stranger and I knew this was the person I needed to talk to. Because of him or her, God had sent me out on the road. I said what I needed to say and went home. Do you think that would be possible without God? Please, tell your friends that they need to continue to pray. God is answering their prayers.”
Jae-Hwa agrees with her friend. “Your prayer partners should not be discouraged by watching the news about North Korea. God is at work everywhere.”
Food, medicine, and prayer
Together with local Chinese Christians, Open Doors runs some safe houses for North Koreans in China. Often believers only stay a couple of days, sometimes a few weeks. Once it is established that somebody is genuinely interested in learning more about the Bible, they will meet in a secret location with a trained co-worker of Open Doors to do just that. We also provide them with Christian materials if they request them. Your prayers and support are enabling people to hear about Jesus for the first time.
Your support is also vital in practical support for North Korean Christians. Starvation is widespread in the country, and food delivery via Open Doors secret workers has saved lives. Because the situation for believers and other citizens is so bleak, Open Doors provides over 60,000 Christians with food, medicine and clothes. Of course, for security reasons, the methods of doing so must remain secret – but it is having a profound impact, thanks to your support.
As another believer told us, “Our leaders always keep in mind your love and concern with the food, medicines and clothes which you and fellow workers in Christ prepared for us. We will do our best to maintain and distribute them to our underground church believers in a timely and safely way. I thank you and all your supporters worldwide.”
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in North Korea, particularly as the country becomes even more hostile to their faith.
Dear God, thank you that You are stronger than any human powers, and that Your will cannot be stopped by heightened surveillance and any other measures. Please protect Your children in North Korea from imprisonment and execution, continue to spread Your Word in the country, and use Open Doors secret workers to provide shelter and training to North Korean believers in China. We ask this for Your glory, Amen.
Every £59 could provide a monthly relief pack to keep a North Korean family alive. This could include food, medicines, clothes, boots and blankets.
*Names changed for security reasons