The secret plan to save North Korea

September 23, 2019 by Ryan Hamm in Persecution updates

Could you sing a worship song if you’d eaten grass for breakfast?


Could you sit through—or preach—a sermon if you knew you weren’t going to eat for the rest of the day?


Could you pray and read God’s Word as your stomach growls so loudly it threatens to drown out the voice of the Spirit?

This is the situation faced by North Korean believers as they wait out the impact of the worst drought the country has seen in almost 40 years.

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.”

Hunger is a brutal reality for many North Korean Christians. And the latest harvest means it might get worst.

But in the midst of this reality, God’s people are embarking on a radical plan to save North Korea. And you can be a part of it.

Memories of a brutal famine—and fears of a new one

This year, as the United Nations estimates half of North Korea’s population is in need and 41 percent is undernourished, North Koreans are bracing for the worst. North Korea reduced rations for its people in February, and in May the regime took the rare step of publicly admitting there was a crippling drought. A typhoon in early September has made the problem even worse, destroying crops and farmland.

The deepest fear for North Koreans is that the brutal drought will mean a return to the catastrophic famine of the 1990s. While the death toll of that famine is a matter of debate, estimates range as high as 3 million people dead. A return to those conditions would be devastating.

Reports from those years are deeply disturbing. “Many kids could not attend school due to starvation, and they could hardly complete school assignments,” says Hee Jin, a North Korean who lived through the famine. “Many kids left school to sell things at the market. I also missed more days of school than I attended.

“I remember eating soup made out of bean sprout roots. It was a difficult time. I also have bad memories of corpses being carried out of houses next door [to us], one every few days. Some of these people starved to death, and some froze to death; [they] were left there for days. Often several people in one household passed away.”

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.

It’s no wonder that Christian parents can’t even share their faith with their children. To be a Christian in North Korea is to worship Jesus in isolation, with limited access to God’s Word. Open Doors estimates there are around 300,000 secret Christians in North Korea, all of whom live and worship in unthinkable conditions.

Find out why North Korea is #1 on the World Watch List

North Korea has been #1 on the World Watch List, the annual list that measures the 50 places in the world where it's hardest to follow Jesus, for 18 straight years. Download the full report and learn more about what it can cost in this country to follow Jesus.

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‘There’s nothing to eat’

Recent reports from North Korea are not encouraging. “Cholera is spreading quickly due to impure water and bad hygiene,” says one North Korean source. “There are hundreds of patients who are suffering from severe diarrhea, and more than half of them are young children and elderly patients whose level of immunity is low. Therefore, [the number of] people dying of starvation and from various drought-related diseases are increasing day by day.”

“In winter everything is frozen and there’s nothing to eat,” says another person living in North Korea. “People are suffering with severe starvation and hunger. Most people suffer from malnutrition. Furthermore, we can’t use our heating stoves, because there’s no firewood.”

In these conditions, it becomes impossible to imagine life as a secret Christian. Yet Christians are ready to follow Jesus even in the midst of an unthinkable humanitarian crisis. They just need food.

And incredibly, they’re ready to preach the gospel boldly through the support people provide them.

Join a secret mission

An Open Doors co-worker recently met a North Korean underground leader we’ll call “Brother Yi.” “I met him in China for the second time this year,” says this Open Doors partner. “Last year, he received an audio device with the Bible and other materials on it from me. He takes care of a network of 15 people. He shared a lot of food with the people around him—so much so that he was called for interrogation by the authorities. He still uses the audio Bible we gave him for his personal Bible study. I also supported him with food, medicine and clothes.”

The secret networks in China supported by Open Doors are vital to North Korean believers. Another underground leader in North Korea tells us how food they receive in these Chinese safe houses is key to evangelizing North Korea. “The Korean Church had a long of practice of ‘holy rice,’ or ‘love rice’ as it is also called,” he explains. “Christian women would set aside a small amount of rice for those who were needy. Once a week, the rice was brought to the church to help the poor. We had long forgotten about this practice, but God reminded us of it during the Great Famine in the 1990s.

“Now, many families set aside a little bit of food—even if they have very little. We share the food with people around us who are in even greater need. It’s a great way to build trust and, after trust has been built, to talk about the gospel.”

What an incredible witness!

‘We know He has not forgotten us’

As food supplies dwindle, it means that for the gospel to be preached in North Korea and for the Church to survive—for “holy rice” to be used as a tool of evangelism—believers will need the support of the global Church.

This is why Open Doors supplies North Korean believers with food and emergency aid through our networks in China; when these secret Christians are able to sneak across the border, they find help ready and waiting. And often, they return to continue their ministry, bringing food and help back with them. This helps North Korean Christians realize they are not alone in this spiritual battle for North Korea. “The fact that you are able to support us is proof that God exists,” says one North Korean leader who found help through a network in China. “Thanks to you, we know He has not forgotten us. He has opened the door for us to be connected to many supporters abroad.”

“It’s impossible to imagine a car without an engine,” says one Christian in the region. “In the same way, we cannot imagine how we’d be able to survive without your concern, guidance, support and love for our believers. Whenever we face strong storms of difficulty, we remember that you care for us. Through your love and care, we break through any circumstance, just like spring breaks through the ice-cold winter.”

This is it—the secret plan to save North Korea. Through supporting Open Doors’ networks in China, you can help the gospel secretly spread in the most closed country on Earth. Will you join us, today?

Help North Korean believers today

You can help rush food, clothing, life-saving aid, Bibles and more to Christians who are able to connect with our networks in China. They’ve told us how they use that support to preach the gospel—and now, we have the opportunity to help them. Will you join their secret plan to save North Korea?

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