Risking death for God’s Word: How the Bible gets into North Korea

October 12, 2019 by Ryan Hamm in Bible and Gospel Advancement

Kim Da-bin looks around nervously. It’s after midnight, and the moon lights her way as she sneaks out into the woods near her home. There’s no one around, and the air is still and cool. She’s carrying a small shovel under her jacket. She finds the spot on the ground, and she begins to dig as quietly as she can.


Soon she’s unearthed what she’s after. She brushes the dirt off the plastic bag, and opens it to retrieve what’s inside.


The small book falls into her hand with a small thud; the sound is barely noticeable, but in the nighttime quiet, it sounds like a gunshot.


She looks around—no one has noticed her. And so, she takes the book, puts it in her jacket pocket, and slips back into her home.

Once inside, she shuts the curtains, pulls the book out of her pocket, opens it, and begins to read.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. For your rod and staff, they comfort me.

She can barely make out the text; it’s an older form of Korean that isn’t used much anymore. But this little book is her most treasured possession.

After she finishes reading, she again walks quietly outside, puts the small Bible back into the bag, puts it back into the hole and covers it with dirt again. As quietly as she can, she makes sure she hasn’t left any trace of her work. She sneaks back into her house, and falls into bed. It’s another night with God’s Word, another night where she wasn’t caught.

It’s another night in North Korea, the place where having a Bible can get you killed.

What worship looks like in North Korea

Kim Da-bin isn’t a real person. But her story is all too real. It’s based on countless photos and stories Open Doors has heard from North Korean Christians who have managed to get messages out to our teams in the region. We’ve heard about the risks, and we’ve prayed with and cried with the Christians who still follow Jesus despite those risks. We’ve seen the Bibles that were buried and reburied for years by faithful believers, along with other secret ways that North Korean Christians strengthen their faith. They do all of this even as they live under a regime who will execute people for having a Bible. Even leaving a Bible in a public place is enough to lead to imprisonment.

These are just some of the reasons that North Korea has been No. 1 on the World Watch List, the annual list published by Open Doors that looks at the 50 countries where it’s most difficult to follow Jesus, for more than 15 years.

An Open Doors field worker describes what worship is like for a North Korean believer: “The curtains are pulled and very, very softly, you read from the Bible to your wife and 16-year-old son. You’ve only recently shared the gospel with him. Now he’s old enough and wise enough not to accidentally betray you. Of course, he didn’t understand the gospel at first, but you’re teaching him. You’ve been praying for years that he’d be ready.

“You read the Bible in the dark, you pray; the words are hardly audible. Do you sing in whispers? Maybe—when you’re in a bold mood.”

How you can help

You can help North Korean Christians as they risk everything to follow Jesus. Your gift today can help support our secret networks in China, which provide things like emergency aid, access to a safe house and Bibles and training materials to North Koreans who are able to cross the border!

Give now

In North Korea, children stumble across a Bible in the way that American kids find the Christmas gifts their parents have hidden from them. “In our house, [there] was a hidden closet,” says Kim Sang-Hwa, who grew up in North Korea. “When I was 12, I accidentally found it. I don’t know why, but I started to feel inside the cabinet with my hand and when I felt a book, I pulled it out. I opened the book and began to read: ‘In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”

She began to shiver and dropped the book.

“I was so scared. I knew this book was illegal,” Kim Sang-Hwa says. “My discovery could cost me my life. I was afraid to touch the Bible, but I couldn’t just leave it there. I closed my eyes, picked up the book and put it back. I weighed my options: Should I tell my teacher? Should I visit the local security official? For 15 days, I couldn’t think of anything else. I knew it was my duty to report this illegal book. But it was my family that was involved. And I also had all these questions: ‘Who is this God? Or ‘what’?’”

Where a Bible looks different

In North Korea, what a Bible looks like might look completely different from what you’d expect. There are old languages not used anymore; Bibles in different formats; and even Bibles you can’t hold in your hand.

Open Doors recently got copies of Bibles and other Christian books that were smuggled out of the country. These Bibles were only given up because the secret North Korean Christians received new Bibles and Christian materials from Bible smugglers who risk everything to get God’s Word into the country.

Old Bibles from the middle of the 20th century. These were used by secret Christians in North Korea, and only smuggled out recently when the secret believes in North Korea were given new Bibles to replace these old ones.

Old Bibles from the middle of the 20th century. These were used by secret Christians in North Korea, and only smuggled out recently when the secret believes in North Korea were given new Bibles to replace these old ones.

These Bibles, devotionals, Christian books and songbooks that made it out of North Korea are remarkable. They are mostly from the 1920s through the end of World War II, and are written in a style of Korean script that was commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This script isn’t used anymore, but the Bibles and Christian books were so precious to North Korean believers that they kept them hidden and passed them along to one another.

Some believers are also given audio Bibles on flash drives or other audio devices when they manage to sneak across the border into China. Often, this is a temporary move—people go across the border for food or medical care, and then return to North Korea so their relatives aren’t punished because a family member escapes from the country. Sometimes, they find their way to Christian safe houses, and they’re given audio Bibles to take back in with them.

One Open Doors worker describes meeting with “Brother Y,” a North Korean Christian who now leads a small, secret gathering of believers in North Korea. “Last year, [Brother Y] received an audio device with the Bible and other materials on it from me,” the Open Doors worker says. “He takes care of a network of 15 people. He still uses the audio Bible we gave him for his personal Bible study. I also supported him with food, medicines and clothes.”

There are also radio broadcasts that act as secret audio Bibles for North Korean Christians. Though the North Korean government tries to run signal interference, and knowing that listening to these broadcasts could result in brutal punishments, more than 30,000 believers still tune in. These radio broadcasts give these Christians Bible readings, along with tools to understand it. There’s even a radio program that functions as a Bible seminary, which teaches a seminary Bible course in three years.

Despite the risks, North Korean Christians are still hungry for the Bible—and they’ll risk everything to read it and grow in faith.

Doing anything to get God’s Word to His people

Whether it’s buried, listened to on the radio, smuggled in and kept for generations or kept in a hidden closet, God’s Word is alive and active in North Korea. Through the Holy Spirit, it’s strengthening the faith of Christians in North Korea, reminding them of God’s love and the truth of His work for them.

This is why Open Doors is committed to helping North Koreans have access to Bibles, no matter what. In China, through our partner networks, we provide Bibles and Christian literature—including materials for parents and youth—for North Korean believers who are able to get over the border, but we can’t tell you how, or how many people get them. Sometimes, these books are taken back when the North Korean believer returns home—ready to equip the church for years to come.

Open Doors helps North Korean Christians get Bibles and other Christian materials however we can—through radio, our networks in China, Chinese safe houses or any other method that will work. What matters is helping God’s people get access to His Word so they can grow in their faith and deepen their love for Christ.

“The delivered Christian materials will be distributed to the believers in a timely and safely way,” says one secret church leader. “I’m convinced these materials will contribute to their spiritual growth. We, the church leaders, are committed and dedicated to giving our lives again for our responsibilities in Christ. We remember your love and trust towards us. We will teach our North Korean believers with the words of our God and keep focusing on the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.”

Through the Bibles and discipleship materials that make it into North Korea, God is strengthening His Church, who stand strong for Him, no matter the risk. “North Korean Christians are like the tree stumps of faith that our Lord has let remain,” says Kyung-So, a secret North Korean believer who has escaped the country.

“Pray for them. Pray for those that do missionary work, and assist them. Please pray for human rights and the freedom for North Koreans to worship Jesus Christ. Imagine the desperation of the people who live in such a place. The Kingdom of God must soon be realized upon the land. Please pray for the ones who believe in Jesus Christ.”

Related Stories