Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - North Korea - Open Doors UK & Ireland

North Korea

World Watch ranking: 1
Map thumbnail
Kim Jong-un

How many Christians?
400,000 (1.5%)

Main threats
  • Dictatorial paranoia
  • Communist and post-Communist oppression

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How many Christians are there in North Korea?  

Open Doors estimates there to be some 400,000 Christians in North Korea, which is a very small percentage of the country’s total population of more than 26 million people. Many of these Christians are being held in labour camps and prisons for their faith.

How are Christians persecuted in North Korea? 

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 awaits family members. There are believed to be tens of thousands of Christians held in labour camps across the country.

Christian women held in the country’s barbaric labour camps are acutely vulnerable to sexual violence during interrogation and in daily prison life. Such offences are committed by guards with the deliberate intention of undermining Christian teaching on sexual purity. An estimated 80% of all North Korean defectors are women, and many North Korean women who defect to China are subject to human trafficking. China has recently ‘repatriated’ hundreds of North Korean refugees, including many Christians – upon return, they will face imprisonment or even death.

It’s impossible for Christians to live freely in North Korea. Meeting for worship is extremely dangerous and must be done in utmost secrecy – and at grave risk. In May 2023, five members of a family were arrested as they gathered for prayer and Bible study. Christian literature was also confiscated. The group had reportedly been meeting on a weekly basis, and their arrest followed a tip-off by an informant.

"Our missions are often dangerous,” says a North Korean church leader. “We managed to get some believers out of a very difficult, possibly lethal situation. This was only possible through God’s guidance and the prayers of many supporters around the world. It is only through God’s special providence, grace and blessings that our underground church network still exists. We must remain very careful, though. One mistake is all it takes to lose everything."

The deplorable treatment of believers is driven by the authoritarian regime’s view that Christians are a particular threat to the country’s leadership and society. The 'anti-reactionary thought law' (enacted in December 2020) makes it amply clear that being a Christian or possessing a Bible is a serious crime and will be severely punished. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes.

Meet 'Ji Ho'

“The thing I give thanks for the most is that Father God uses me to work as His servant. I desire to dedicate my life, until death, to glorify Him.” ji ho, a secret believer from north korea

What’s life like for Christians in North Korea? 

Ji Ho* vividly remembers the moment she saw her father for the last time. North Korean security agents had ransacked their house – and dragged him away when they found his ‘secret book’ buried in the garden. “My father and I both sobbed,” she remembers. “In that moment, we knew we’d never see each other again.”

At the time, Ji Ho didn’t realise her father was a Christian, or that the book was the Bible. To her, it was just a book of stories ‘about a wise man who sat on a mountain and began to teach’. But she did know about his hidden radio, and started listening to it in the hopes of finding a source of food. Instead, she heard stories about the man from the secret book: Jesus.

“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.”

Ji Ho loves hearing the radio broadcasts, but knows she must keep her faith secret from people she knows. “I know that it would be dangerous to tell anyone about Jesus,” says Ji Ho. “Our leaders don’t want us to worship anyone or anything besides them. I’ve realised that’s why my father was taken – they saw he had a Lord that was bigger than our country’s leaders.”

*Name changed for security reasons

Is it getting harder to be a Christian in North Korea?

North Korea’s ‘persecution score’ – based on detailed research by World Watch List experts – is slightly lower than last year, but it remains the hardest place in the world to follow Jesus. The past year has seen North Korea fortify its border with China, making it increasingly challenging for North Koreans to flee the country and for organisations to operate within the region.

There has also been a growing shortage of food, with thousands at risk of starvation. Many fear a return of the 1990’s famine. The crisis has been so severe that the authorities began a mobilisation campaign to get people farming – but many have avoided participation, because food isn’t provided.

However, even as believers experience their own shortage of food, people like Ji Ho have been selflessly helping others. “As I continued to learn more about Jesus, I also found that my life was changing in other ways,” says Ji Ho. “I was still hungry, but I started to share my food. 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.”

How can I help Christians in North Korea? 

Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters from North Korea. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.

Through secret networks outside the country, Open Doors secret workers are helping around 100,000 North Korean believers by providing vital food and aid, shelter and discipleship training for North Korean refugees at safe houses in China, and training through radio broadcasting from outside the country. 

please pray

Lord Jesus, our hearts ache as we hear about the extreme dangers facing our family in North Korea. May each and every believer feel Your tender loving care, and be strengthened with Your power to persevere with the hope of Jesus firmly in their hearts. Provide precious moments for believers to meet, both in prisons and in secret gatherings, and give Christian parents wisdom and creativity to know how to share their faith safely with their children. Protect Your family, give them discernment when tough decisions must be made, and may their lives draw others to You. We also pray for Kim Jong-un – soften his heart and show him a better way to lead. Holy Spirit, have Your way in North Korea. Amen.

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