North Korea has been waging war on Christianity ever since the Japanese were driven out of the Korean peninsula in 1945. The Kim dynasty (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un) has deported and killed entire families. With Kim Jong-Un as the new leader of the cruel regime it is expected that times may get worse for Christians.
The North Korean government’s war on Christianity has been raging on for more than six decades now. Before the Japanese were driven out of the Korean peninsula in 1945, there were some 500,000 Christians in the North. Ten years later, all visible evidence of the church had disappeared. When Kim Il-Sung emerged as the supreme leader of the Democratic Republic of North Korea, he was convinced that Christianity was a huge threat to his own ideology of race-based nationalism. He was determined that the pure Korean race would not be infected by foreign religions. When many Christians fled the country during the Korean War (1951-1953), Kim took this as evidence that followers of Christ were traitors and spies for the Americans. In spite of sixty-seven years of severe persecution, Open Doors estimates that today there are still almost 400,000 North Korean Christians practicing their faith in secret.
According to former secret agents, there are four type of constant surveillance in North Korea – the National Security Agency (NSA), the Public Safety Agency (PSA), the neighborhood unit and the Party. For example, those arrested as the result of neighborhood informants are turned over to the PSA who then turn it over to the NSA for further investigation.
One former NSA agent in charge of tracking down a certain group of “religious” people said, “They were all executed. Things like possessing religious books, sharing one’s faith with others, or preaching cannot exist because they undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. All we need [to arrest someone] is one bit of evidence such as the Bible with someone’s name on it. If only a Bible is found, the NSA leaves it until the real owner shows up.” One undercover informant in China said he was supposed to look for “things such as a person who remains silent with closed eyes and meditates, or when habitual smokers or drinkers quit smoking or drinking all of a sudden. These people should be targets to be watched closely.” In both North Korea and China, spies are commissioned to set up fake, “secret” prayer meetings to attract and entrap Christians.
Many spies carry out covert executions on those suspected of helping Christians. Last August, in the Chinese border city Dandong, a South Korean man was waiting for a taxi when someone quietly walked up behind him. The South Korean did not notice him until he felt a pin-prick in his neck. While his assailant ran away, the man collapsed with foam coming out of his mouth. Witnesses called for an ambulance and the victim was rushed to the hospital, where he passed away. This South Korean Christian, who was heavily involved in an underground railway to help North Korean refugees escape, was brutally assassinated.
Less than three weeks later, a South Korean Christian living in Seoul was telephoned by the South Korean intelligence service and told not to meet up with a North Korean acquaintance, because the agency had indications the North Korean would attempt to murder him. Shortly thereafter, the police arrested the North Korean man at a train platform with needles and poison in his possession.
With the official appointment of Kim Jong-Un as the heir of his father Kim Jong-Il, North Korea has stepped up attempts to uncover religious activities with more house raids, more spies trained and dispatched for various operations including targeting South Korean Christians such as those mentioned above. The situation for Christians may become increasingly unbearable, as the young, inexperienced Kim Jong-Un flexes his muscles for the benefit of his “comrades” who may very well be unsuspected political enemies.
However, despite decades of intense persecution, the church is more alive than ever. The North Korean Christians assure us there is victory, even when they are tortured and killed. “A friend of mine is being terribly tortured in prison,” says one Christian. “When he came to faith, he made the decision that one day he would die for Christ. Every Christian in North Korea has made that choice. I am convinced he can take the suffering because he constantly reminds himself of the joy that is set before him.”
Many North Koreans are discovering that Jesus Christ is God, not the Kims, and are committing their lives to Him. Open Doors supplies these believers in North Korea with much needed physical and spiritual food. Each year tons of food, medicines, clothes, books, Bibles and other materials are distributed in North Korea. “Your help is proof that God has not forgotten us,” says one local Christian.
Father, we pray for these North Koreans as they suffer daily. Even in our busy schedules, remind us daily of their plight that we might walk along side them in prayer. Thank You for the work of Your Spirit in protecting them in both normal and miraculous ways. Thank You for the work of Open Doors in supporting them physically and spiritually; show us how You would have us be a part of that work. Encourage them, and us, with reminders of the “Joy that is set before them.” In the name of Jesus who is present with them, Amen.