North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is the most repressive nation in the world, for Christians. The country is ruled by the Stalinist dictator, Kim Jong-un, and the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
Catholicism was first introduced to Korea in the 17th century. The first protestant (Presbyterian) missionaries arrived in the late 19th century. Today, 30% of South Koreans are Christian. What are the circumstances for Christians in North Korea today?
Communist regimes are founded upon the philosophy of “scientific atheism.” In North Korea, Christianity is not only seen as the “opiate of the people”; but Christianity is also viewed as alien and evil.
North Korean Christians hide their faith, to avoid arrest and being sent to labor camp. One’s faith is a closely guarded secret, even within families. Parents do not train their children in the Christian faith, to safeguard their families, if the children are questioned. Constant surveillance by the secret police, and their informants, means that many Christians pray with eyes open. Gathering for worship or fellowship is virtually impossible.
Worship of the communist dictators is required of all citizens. Those who do not comply are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or killed. It is reported that entire Christian families are imprisoned in strict-regime labor camps, where uncounted masses die from torture, beatings, overexertion, and starvation. Those who attempt to flee North Korea risk execution or life imprisonment. It is estimated that 50,000 Christians are currently being held in North Korean gulags (labor camps). Since 1953, it is believed that at least 200,000 Christians have been killed. It has been documented that believers have been: hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.
North Korea permits only five official Christian churches to function, all located in the Capital, Pyongyang: three Protestant, one Catholic, and one Orthodox. Any show of “religious freedom” is extremely limited, aimed at visitors and foreigners, for propaganda purposes.
It is estimated that 300,000 “secret” Christians remain in North Korea. However, before Communist China opened to the West in the early 1970s, Western experts assumed Christianity had been eliminated by communist repression of religion. Instead, the number of Chinese Christians had grown by leaps and bounds under persecution. Today in China, there are more Christians than members of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Please remember North Korea in your prayers. Let us pray that God would give strength and encouragement to North Korean Christians, and that the waves of persecution would recede. Let us also pray for the whole nation, which has suffered terribly under Stalinist dictatorship for 70 years. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. And the Bible also tells us to pray for rulers and those in authority – not just our own leaders, but those of other lands. Let us pray for a peaceful solution to the tensions with North Korea. There is a wonderful example of this: beginning in 1982, Christians worldwide began to pray for the Iron Curtain to be miraculously brought down. That prayer was answered, and the Cold War peacefully resolved in 1989.
About the Author: Daniel Molyneux made his first trip behind the Iron Curtain in 1983, to aid Christians suffering under communist rule. He subsequently made numerous trips to Russia and the Soviet Republics during: communist rule, the transition, and afterwards. Molyneux is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, in Fairfield, California, and is the author of three books.