Hea Woo’s life has been full of trauma. In 1997, in the midst of a great famine in North Korea, her daughter in her mid-twenties starved to death in her own home. Hea Woo’s husband escaped to China. He found God …but was caught by the secret police and six months later died in a North Korean prison camp.
“I was shocked to hear that my husband had become a Christian,” Hea Woo told one of our partners in the field, “but instinctively I knew he had found the truth.”
It wasn’t too long after this that Hea Woo herself escaped to China and became a Christian through a series of events similar to those that had influenced her husband’s journey to faith. She would soon follow his journey to a North Korean prison, as she also was caught by the secret police, repatriated to North Korea and placed in a prison camp. She shares about the horrors of life in these prisons: death so rampant that bodies would lay on the ground for three or four days without being cleaned up; mental and physical abuse that would make you sick in the pit of your stomach. Every day was torture for Christians.
A secret church in prison
In one of the darkest places on earth, Hea Woo chose to do something so radical, and so dangerous, but so Christ-like. In this prison, God gave her a heart to tell her fellow prisoners about Jesus. And so, right there in the middle of a North Korean labor camp, a secret fellowship church began.
One of our partners in the field recently met with Hea Woo and caught this special moment on video.
In her words: “The Bible verses that I’d recall from memory gave the others hope. They also saw the Spirit at work in me. I stood out among the other prisoners because I helped them. Sometimes I shared my rice with the sick. Occasionally I washed their clothes, too.
Worship in the Outhouse
“God used me to lead five people to faith. I tried to teach them the little I knew about Jesus. I didn’t have access to a Bible in the camp. But on Sundays and at Christmas, we met together out of the view of the guards. Usually, that was in the toilet. There we held a short service. I taught them the Bible verses and songs that I knew. We sang almost inaudibly so that no one would hear us.”
It’s believers like Hea Woo who suffer persecution for their faith that brings much-needed perspective on real discipleship. On what it means to obediently, selflessly and courageously follow Jesus.
Hea Woo planted a church in a place so putrid that no one dared go near them…in a prison, where if caught, she would be tortured and killed without exception.
We serve Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, who calls us to a radical lifestyle.
And our response should be to uncompromisingly, unashamedly and passionately follow Him whatever the cost.
As North Korea continues to show up in the news and international talks go on between Kim Jong Un and other world leaders, please remember the suffering church in North Korea—their stories, their trials and their faith—and pray for them daily.