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Kim Jung Un Markes One Year in Power

December 4, 2012 by Open Doors in General

North Korean Guard

Almost one year has passed since Kim Jong-Un succeeded his father as the leader of the world’s most secretive nation. Despite the young leader’s attempts to create a more accessible and compassionate public image, there have been few signs of genuine reform in the country.

Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished, the police have informants everywhere, and more than one per cent of the population lives in Nazi-like labor camps. In the past year, since Mr. Kim took the reins of his desperately poor nation, North Korea has experienced modest improvements. Mr. Kim has demonstrated his new leadership style by allowing more women to dress in Western clothing and by breaking with tradition in publicly admitting a failure when a rocket launch went awry in April 2012. It remains to be seen whether he will keep his promise and work toward economic reform.

Kim Jong-Un did announce an agricultural reform. The new policy reduces cooperative farm units to four to six people, with harvests being split 70-30% between government and farmers, while increasing the autonomy of factories and businesses. Kim also sent his uncle Jang Sung Taek (formally second-in-command, but appointed to watch over and guide the inexperienced Kim Jong-Un) on a mission to China to find a breakthrough for the food situation. It is unclear how much food he managed to secure, but the Chinese leadership used his visit to explain to him the Chinese economic model and encouraged him to make steps toward serious economic reform.

All these developments make North Korea watchers wonder if Kim Jong-Un is indeed different from his predecessors and if he will significantly change the country? Sadly, the answer is, “unlikely.” It seems like North Korea is cleansing the outside of the cup, not the inside. Survival of the regime is the sole priority, and security has actually tightened this year.

The number of trained North Korean spies in China is growing. They are after human rights activists and Christians helping North Korean refugees. Border patrols have been taken over by the National Security Agency, which interrogates captured smugglers for information about Christians helping defectors. Inside the country, in at least one region but possibly more, citizens are being pressured to confess their crimes. A North Korean person told a reporter from DailyNK.com, “They are gathering people… and telling them to write letters confessing precisely what foreign media they have viewed up to now. When they give you the paper they warn you, saying they know everything anyway so just write it down-when, where and what you saw, where and from whom you got it, and your impression of it.”

For Christians, the suppression remains severe. Those caught with a Bible usually face death or internment in a labor camp. Christians report that they are still being completely isolated from the outside world. It is estimated that between 50,000 to 70,000 believers are languishing in prison camps. Some arrested Christians have been tortured and then released in order to betray their brothers and sisters or to serve as bait. “This is extremely tragic,” says an Open Doors co-worker involved in ministry among North Koreans. “It’s so dangerous to help Christians who have been released by the government. Some have been tortured so severely they cannot walk anymore. Often we cannot help them because that would bring too much risk to us. We can pray for them. We know that Jesus will not leave them, nor forsake them.”

For underground believers in North Korea, prayer has become their lifeline. “Prayer in North Korea is a matter of life and death,” says an Open Doors contact working in China. “If North Koreans come to faith in China, the most important thing we teach them is how to build a relationship with God. When they return to their country they cannot take a Bible along. Almost half of all refugees who return are arrested at some point during the journey. In every situation they need to trust in the Lord. That is why prayer is so important. We teach them to pray for everything, especially for discernment. Who can you trust? What do you say, and what do you not say?”

Despite the immense challenges, North Korean Christians are praying BIG prayers for their country. “God gave us a vision, that one day our country will be opened and be reunited with South Korea,” say underground church leaders. “Then the North Korean and South Korean Church will work together with our Chinese brothers and sisters to evangelize Asia. That is going to be a hard, difficult task. We see the current persecution in North Korea as preparation for that time.”

“We know that Christians living under the most brutal regime in the world will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmas,” notes Jerry Dykstra, Open Doors USA Media Relations Director, ” – most of them only in their hearts.”

Father, we pray for our North Korean brothers and sisters as they suffer. We pray that they will know Your provision and intervention in their lives. We lift up those running safe houses in China that You will protect them and grant wisdom and guidance, that they may continue this important ministry. Grant wisdom and discernment, Lord, to Christians, that they might know who to trust. Encourage them and cause them to grow spiritually even with the little many have of Your Word. We pray for Your Spirit to breathe new life into many North Koreans, and send a revival that cannot be contained across this dark land. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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