Surviving the dead god of North Korea

July 27, 2021 by Becca Anderson in Stories of Persecution

Timothy Cho*, a North Korean escapee who now lives in the UK, vividly remembers the day when Kim Il-Sung died, July 8, 1994. He asked his father, “Are we all going to die because of his death?”


His father replied: “No, we now follow his son, Kim Jong-Il.”


Kim died in the rainy season. North Korean media portrayed this as symbolic. “Even the sky is crying for the death of the ‘sun of mankind’ or ‘the sun of the nation,’” they said.


Though 27 years have elapsed since Kim Il-Sung’s death, North Koreans are still expected to show their sorrow. Every citizen is expected to visit monuments to him each July on the anniversary of his death. They are also required to reverence and idolize the rest of the Kim family.

Daily reinforcement

Belief in the Kim family is reinforced by the requirement that every North Korean citizen think about them, bow to them and speak of them every day. There are about 50,000 monuments to honor the Kim family across the country to facilitate this “worship”.

Morning to evening, every North Korean is subject to indoctrination through television, radio, newspapers and even loudspeakers. There is no escape from the message that North Korea is ruled by a god from the Kim family.

North Korean children are taken from their parents at age 2 and put into state nurseries. Their earliest memories are hearing that Kim Il-Sung is the eternal god, and the entire Kim family are also deities. The first words they are taught to say are, “Thank you, Father Kim Il-Sung.”

In contrast, artwork and propaganda depicting Christians is universally violent, showing Westerners and Christians violently killing Koreans. Children are taught from an early age that Christians are evil spies who will kidnap, torture and kill them. One defector who converted to Christianity said he was terrified of the first Christians he met because he was taught they would harvest his organs.

Fear is a way of life in North Korea. Fear of not showing enough reverence for their gods. Fear of Christians and people of other faiths. Even fear of one’s own family members and neighbors.

The walls have ears

In an article for Fox News, writer Caleb Parke makes an observation that should take our breath away. Christians quote Matthew 18:20. “When reading Matthew 18:20,” Parke writes, “‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them,’ North Koreans see a different version: ‘Where two or three are gathered one of them is likely a spy.’”

Children are required to report any kind of faith in their homes to their teachers. As a result, parents hide their faith from the rest of the family. There are even reports of a husband or wife not realizing the other is a Christian for many years. To share such precious truth with a child is to be vulnerable to the child making a slip in front of friends or teachers. The consequences are disastrous.

To be a Christian in North Korea is often a death sentence. It means either immediate execution or a sentence to a labor camp as a political criminal. Three generations are sometimes enveloped in the catastrophe, as parents, the believer and his or her children are all viewed as enemies of the people and treated accordingly.

At this time, it is believed that 50-70,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea. For the last 20 years, North Korea has been at the very top of the Open Doors World Watch List as the most difficult nation on earth in which to be a believer in Christ.

Some Christians have left the country in search of religious freedom, or due to poverty and starvation. But crossing the border in search of a round-about route to South Korea is not easy or safe.

“There are two types of people who pick them up,” said Ed Brown, the American general secretary for Stefanus, a Norwegian Christian organization advocating for freedom of religion or belief. “Abusive human traffickers, and Christians—who risk their lives to move them from safe house to safe house, and then out of China.”

It is not enough for North Korean officials to persecute Christians within their borders. Secret police also cross over into China to find and abduct believers from North Korea and bring them back to face death or imprisonment.

Is there any hope?

Timothy Cho has experienced the wind of freedom. He has not given up hope that his home country can one day come to faith and freedom, as well.

“In the UK I have discovered who I am, what I love and care about, and what I stand for—our democratic constitutional values of freedom of faith, expression, speech and opportunity,” he said. “Like many other North Koreans, I grew up without my parents’ love and under the Kim family’s totalitarian indoctrination. But today I know the love of my true heavenly Father, I see the beauty of God’s creation in humanity, and I have a commitment to love and care for others. I hope when the North Korean people are finally given freedom, they will also choose to stand for humanity and love for others.”

Pray with the believers of North Korea for the soul of their nation—both refugees and those who live or are imprisoned there.

  • Pray the eyes of the North Korean people will be opened to the truth that there is a God who never dies, and who loves them and wants what is best for them.
  • Pray for those under threat or in active imprisonment. Ask God to deepen their faith and keep their hearts firmly fixed on Him.
  • Ask God to encourage His children in North Korea, so that His peace fills their hearts, and His love wraps around them to let them know they are not alone and they are not forgotten (Phil. 4:7).