Kim Sang-Hwa* knows God is with her at all times, including when she met secretly with other Christians in North Korea. What she didn’t know was whether one of the other secret Christians would betray her. “We have a saying in North Korea,” says Sang-Hwa. “‘When three of us are meeting, one of us is a spy and will report to the government.’”
Discovering the hidden Bible
Many North Korean Christians can’t even tell their families about their faith. Sang-Hwa didn’t realise that her mother and father were believers until she was nearly a teenager. “My parents couldn’t share any Christian stories with my siblings and me. It’s too dangerous. A child may accidentally betray his or her parents’ faith.” Teachers sometimes even ask young children to inform on their parents. The consequences of being identified as a believer in North Korea would be horrendous.
If the government finds out that you’re a Christian, it’s likely that you’ll be sent to a labour camp. Most prisoners never leave, and the conditions are worse than we can possibly imagine. Following Jesus takes extraordinary courage in North Korea – it’s been at the top of the World Watch List since 2002. It’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian.
When she was 12, Sang-Hwa found her parents’ secret Bible. “I threw the book across the room. I had shivers throughout my body. And I was so very afraid. I thought: ‘Wow, we’re all dead now.’”
Terrified, she put the Bible back where she’d found it. Sang-Hwa was left with a tremendously difficult choice. Should she do her ‘patriotic duty’ and tell the police, or should she find out more about Christianity from her parents – and risk her own life?
The dangerous choice
Praise God, after 15 very anxious days, she made the brave decision to ask her father about his faith. And he was equally brave, sharing the truth of God’s Word with his daughter.
“That’s when he explained the Bible and the gospel to me. First, he shared about Adam and Eve. Then he asked what the most dangerous animal was and I told him it was the snake. He agreed and then he shared how sin came into the world and how we are in need of redemption. It was the first of many conversations we had about the Bible; about God, Jesus and the gospel”
As her father talked about the Bible, Sang-Hwa felt the Holy Spirit come over her. Eventually Sang-Hwa made the decision to follow Jesus. She knew how dangerous it was, but she also knew it was the best choice to make, once she was convicted of the truth of the gospel.
The growing church
More and more North Koreans are making the same courageous decision that Sang-Hwa made. Despite the suffocation of living in a police state and the enormous dangers of being a believer, there is a massive underground church and it is growing. Open Doors estimates that there are 200,000 to 400,000 secret Christians in the country. Tens of thousands of believers are in concentration camps.
Incredibly, and thanks to your ongoing support and prayers, Open Doors is able to keep more than 60,000 North Korean Christians alive with food, urgent medical help and winter clothing. Open Doors gets this vital aid to them through secret networks that we can’t say anything about. The same networks are used to distribute Bibles and other Christian literature. Writing too much about them would compromise the safety of everyone involved.
Sang-Hwa is convinced that the impact of this work is felt by the average Christian family from North Korea. “It’s really significant. The love of God flows through believers to others. Thanks to your support, the secret believers experience that God loves them and provides in everything they need.”
Open Doors supports Christians from North Korea who have managed to escape the country, through safe houses in China where they can access the Bible, often for the first time. The deteriorating security situation makes this work increasingly dangerous. There is evidence that North Korean spies are sent into neighbouring countries to kidnap or kill anyone working with refugees, particularly Christians. Please pray for their safety as they make the courageous choice to serve God and their family of believers in this way.
“Our victorious march!”
Your support makes a life-changing difference. As one underground church leader says, “Through your secure delivery, we received the Christian books and other materials. I cannot express our thankful hearts with any words in this world. With your loving support and care for our spiritual and physical lives, we can overcome any struggles and keep our faith until the end.”
Another leader speaks triumphantly about the power of Christ in the face of terrible persecution and opposition: “Through your support and wise guidance, our believers have been bearing good fruit in the spiritual warfare with powerful faith and love in Jesus Christ. Nothing and nobody in this world can stop our victorious march! Our faith will be strengthened a hundred times over, even in the suffering and difficult situations before us.”
Open Doors’ long-term presence is vital for the survival and life of the North Korean church. As with all the countries on the World Watch List, and particularly those in the top ten, your ongoing gifts and prayers offer a lifeline to many of the world’s most vulnerable believers.
That leaves us in the UK and Ireland with a choice. As we follow Jesus in safety, will we remember our brothers and sisters who don’t have the same freedom? Can you choose to grow the courage and faith of those facing extreme persecution today?
Gifts will go to support persecuted Christians in North Korea and the other nine countries in the 2020 World Watch List Top 10.
Pray for faith, resilience and courage for Christians in North Korea facing unimaginably harsh conditions, and pray for the continuing growth of the secret church. Please pray for Christians in all the countries on the World Watch List, particularly those in the top ten, where following Christ comes with enormous cost.
*Name changed for security reasons