Inside the country where Christmas is forbidden

December 23, 2021 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

Imagine growing up in a place where Christmas is forbidden. Sounds like a cruel fairy tale, doesn’t it? But for our family in North Korea, the experience is all too real.

North Korean refugee Timothy Cho* knows firsthand what it’s like for the people of his homeland. He grew up never even hearing about Christmas. Instead, he celebrated another birthday in December.

The hijacking of Christmas Eve

Every Christmas, I think of my persecuted brothers and sisters in North Korea. There is no Christmas in this country. Instead, on December 24, the country celebrates the birthday of is Kim Jong-suk, the wife of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. She is held up as a role model for the people in North Korea, demonstrating her loyalty to Kim Il-sung. There are many propaganda portraits and stories that say she was willing to be shot and killed for Kim Il-sung.

Schools, universities, factories, and public institutions must all participate in singing in the evening, similar to caroling, and celebrate her birthday.

Growing up In North Korea, I would join an evening of singing and celebration at my school. During the day, I also took flowers to her statues. My favorite part of the celebration was that I could stay at home and watch films, albeit propaganda films.

Christmas for secret believers

Nowhere in North Korea is Christmas celebrated publicly. And if anyone is discovered celebrating Christmas, they risk their whole family being arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed. Secret believers must keep most of their celebrations in their hearts. With the current food crisis in the country, it’s difficult to imagine believers having special food for Christmas this year. They might whisper hymns and pray in a hidden place, perhaps secretly reading the Bible if they have one.

Despite the persecution they face, our brothers and sisters in North Korea have hope, and don’t just pray for themselves, but also for others – for their neighbors, friends, colleagues, even their oppressors. They’re obedient in following the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44: “Pray for those who mistreat and persecute you.”

What do North Koreans hope for their country?

The current challenges the country is facing, both food shortages and COVID cases, are reflected in the hopes of my North Korean friends who now live outside of North Korea. They shared their hopes and prayers for their native country:

Il-ho*, who now lives in the UK, hopes North Korean people will be able to have at least one nice meal during the holidays. “My wishes for them are that they endure the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and that  no one dies of starvation next year.”

Ji-Yong*, also now based in the UK, shares: “I feel guilty each time I have a nice meal in the UK. I know COVID is making things very hard, and there is a lack of rice, corn and flour in the market. I really hope there is humanitarian aid and basic food for North Korean people.”

Myong-sook*, who now lives in Seoul, finds it difficult to think of Christmas or New Year in North Korea. The situation has only gotten worse since her escape several years ago. “It leaves me in tears,” she says. “My new year wish is that there is continuing evangelism by secret believers in North Korea. Underground churches and secret believers are the salt and light in the darkness.”

Seng-he*, based in the UK, is thankful for where she is now during the pandemic. “But it makes me feel sad when thinking of North Korean people, particularly during the Christmas and New Year holidays. It is difficult to predict, but there is a tomorrow for my brothers and sisters in North Korea, and my thoughts and prayers for them in the New Year will continue.”

I echo my friends’ prayers in my own prayer for North Korea. I pray I will not hear of anyone who died of starvation. I usually cry when I pray for my brothers and sisters in North Korea. Sometimes my tears don’t come, but my heart feels the pain of their starvation and suffering, prisoners screaming for survival, street children crying for their parents as I did, and the deep sigh of families’ whispering, “We survived another day.”

My new year wish is for more prayers from God’s people, and for international ‘Good Samaritans’ to reach into this dark land. During the holiday season, I will light a candle and pray for my brothers and sisters in North Korea. I know God loves them.

Sharing Christmas with believers from North Korea

We may be thousands of miles away and living very different lives, but in our hearts, we will share the joy of Christmas with secret believers in North Korea, our brothers and sisters, remembering that Jesus came to earth for each one of us.

And your prayers and support are helping to bring hope and joy to North Korean believers this Christmas. For each believer who secretly listens to the Christian radio programs broadcast by Open Doors into North Korea, or stays in a safe house in China, or receives food and medicines through our networks in China, this is a sign to them that they are loved by their global church family, and by our Heavenly Father.

This Christmas, please pray:

  • Pray for protection for secret believers, that they will be safe in God’s hands, and that they will continue to be the salt and light in their communities. Pray this verse: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa.40:31).
  • Pray that God will mobilize more of His people and community to reach out to those in starvation, in prison camps, on the streets, in orphanages … that desperate North Koreans might know the hope of tomorrow in their hearts.
  • Pray for the leadership of North Korea. Our prayers can deeply penetrate even the hard hearts of Kim Jong-un and the other leaders of the regime. Pray that they will recognize their responsibility to protect their citizens from starvation, persecution and injustice.
  • Pray that, despite the risks, the secret church in North Korea will be able to reach out to others with God’s love, even in this deeply tyrannical country.
  • Pray that one day soon, there will be freedom on the whole Korean peninsula, and that once again the capital city Pyongyang will be known as the Second Jerusalem of East Asia.

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