[Reinforcing, North Korea culture of leader worship, the words in white on the flag above reads, ‘”Following the Great Leader, to the ends of the heavens and the earth.”]
It was unusual that the typical New Year’s speech by North Korea’s leader was absent. This year’s message was more like an annual report, which was published in the daily worker’s newspaper at the end of the seventh Party Conference held on December 27-31, 2019.
North Korea’s president Kim Jong-un focused his message on breaking through economic difficulties caused by international sanctions, but not through denuclearization.
In the report, Kim Jong-un said, “It is our strong revolutionary belief that, even if we have to tighten our belts, it is our dignity to protect North Korea’s socialist values against imperialism. We must not dream the US and hostile groups will let us live comfortably. But we must overcome these obstacles faced in the advancement of socialist economic construction, through the power of North Korean people’s self-reliance and spirit.”
Hunger: A reality for thousands of North Korean Christians
This “tightening our belts” reference will affect ordinary civilians the most; many secret believers will struggle without food and shelter. The United Nations estimates that already, half of North Korea’s population is in need and 41 percent are malnourished. Last year, the country saw the worst drought of almost 40 years.
In February 2019, the country reduced already-reduced rations for its people, and in May the regime took the rare step of publicly admitting there was a crippling drought. A typhoon in early September made the problem even worse, destroying crops and farmland.
Kim Sang-Hwa*, a North Korean Christian who escaped and now lives outside the country, shares what hunger looks like for many in North Korea:
“Imagine waking up at 4:30 am and going to your small piece of land—illegally owned—to do some work on your crops. At 7:30, you will have breakfast; probably corn soup. Then you’ll go to a state company or a state farm to work. Lunch is from 12 to 1. You’ll probably have some more corn or even corn rice. To get real rice in North Korea is often not possible, at least not where I lived. Most rice would go to [the capital city of] Pyongyang anyway. At night, you’d eat corn noodles. Often people are hungry, especially if there’s no food at all. You cannot sleep if you haven’t eaten for a few days. All you can think about is food.”
For Christians in North Korea, the threat is even greater. Already forced underground because of their faith, their access to even the small food rations provided by the government will be taken away if it’s discovered they follow Jesus. If Christians are found out, they can immediately be sent to prison camps, where they work and live in subhuman conditions, forced to eat even less than drought conditions might provide.
Hunger is a brutal reality for many North Korean Christians.
Harkening back to North Korea’s deadly famine of the 1990s, many North Koreans may make the dangerous journey into China in search of food and work. Leaving North Korea is a punishable crime. Often, North Koreans in China are repatriated back to the country where they’re placed in labor camps as an example of the consequences of escape.
Seojun a pastor now living in South Korea, remembers almost starving to death in North Korea and escaping into China to look for food. Watch his story below.