Yesterday, I answered a common question raised by readers: Are there really underground churches in the world’s most hostile regions?
The answer is yes. Although Christians in highly restricted countries, like North Korea, often practice their faith under the most difficult circumstances. (Read more about that here.)
This question reminded me about a supporter named Mike who reached out to me a while back. Mike does not work for Open Doors, but he is drawn to care about Christians in North Korea, in part, because he visited the region as an educator.
Below, Mike recounts the restrictions that were in place when he visited the region and shares how his travels grew his heart for people in this part of the world.
The Open Doors staff loves hearing from supporters like Mike. If you or someone you know are supporting the persecuted church in your own unique way, I’d love to hear from you too.
(Special contribution from supporter, Mike McElroy)
When people hear that I lived in China for seven years and visited North Korea twice they ask one question, “Why? Why would you go to places that persecute Christians?”
The reality is that–at the time–I was relatively safe, as long as I stuck to the rules. During my first week in China, we were warned by the authorities not to share our faith. Although I was there as an educator, I led a Bible study in my apartment for college students and was involved in an English corner (informal English instruction group) for a few years. Here, although we were monitored, we were allowed to talk about the true meaning of Christmas and Easter, as long as we discussed it in a cultural context. On Sundays, we went to the city fellowship but only expats were allowed to attend. We had to show our passport to enter.
While I lived in China, I was able to visit North Korea twice. Once, I entered as a tourist in the northeast part of the country. And the second time, I spent three weeks teaching English at a university in Pyongyang. It was surreal to be able to pray for the most persecuted country on their own soil. As an international visitor, I was able to read my English Bible while in the country. We even went to the only Protestant church in the country but were told most there were not Christian but rather were told to be there by the government to “act Christian” for the tourists. But again, I played it safe. I followed the rules and did not dare deviate.
Through the stories we read on the Open Doors website, it’s clear persecution is a daily reality for believers in China and North Korea. We read how Christians in China have their churches torn down and pastors put in prison. We read that, for North Koreans, just owning a Bible is a death sentence. But, they still persevere. North Koreans who become a Christian even freely choose to go back into the country to share the Gospel with their countrymen knowing that if they are caught it means death. The Chinese church, too, continues to share their faith without hesitation.
North Korea has a special place in my heart. Parents cannot even tell their children they are a Christian for fear their children will inadvertently turn them in. In the early 1900’s, revival broke out in Pyongyang and the city was known as the Jerusalem of the East. Today, worship of the Kim family is everywhere. I pray revival will come again to North Korea. As Christianity has exploded in China, I pray the same proliferation will come to North Korea.
When I read the stories of believers in these countries, I think of Hebrews 11 which is know as the Hall of Faith. Hebrews 11 continues to be written today as these believers risk everything for the Gospel. The world is truly not worthy of them. They are the heroes of the faith. They are my heroes.