If North Korean Christians are discovered, they are deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot. Driven by the state, Christian persecution in North Korea is extreme and meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it’s done in complete secrecy. A recent increase in diplomatic activity, starting with the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, has not changed anything for Christians in the country.
How Christians are suffering
Christians must keep their faith completely secret. If a Christian has a Bible, or part of one, it will be carefully hidden and only read when the believer is sure they are alone. Most Christians do not even tell their own children about their faith until the kids are older teenagers, for fear that they may let something slip.
When Christians are discovered, they will be arrested and imprisoned in one of North Korea’s terrible labor camps, where they are worked like slaves and often tortured; most are never able to escape.
The news tells stories of the country’s ambitions on the world stage. Yet behind the headlines, a massive underground church of 200-400,000 Christians is growing in North Korea. And tens of thousands of these secret believers are held in North Korea’s infamous labor camps. It is a miracle that this underground church is able to exist. But more than that, it is thriving and growing.
One Christian has shared: “One day the borders will open and we will unite with the South Korean and the Chinese church to bring the gospel to some of the darkest places on this earth.”
There have been raids against Christians and killings, but no details can be published for security reasons. Pastor Dong-cheol Kim—arrested in 2015—and two Korean-American Christian lecturers at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), Tony Kim and Hak-song Kim, arrested in April and May 2017 respectively, were all accused of espionage but released ahead of the U.S.-North Korean summit in June 2018. In a change of hiring policy, PUST is now reportedly looking for non-US staff, a logical consequence of United States’ travel ban on American travel to North Korea. There have been more reports coming from North Korea, but for security reasons, no details can be given.
Population statistic: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed April 2019).
Number of Christians statistic is an Open Doors estimate
Pray for North Korea
- Pray North Korean officials will come to know God, for change within the regime and that the power of evil will be broken.
- During a year when North Korea raised its profile on the world stage, Kim Jong Un continues to consolidate his power. Pray he will accept the one, true God.
- Open Doors provides North Korean Christians with food, medicine and clothing and safe houses for North Korean refugees in China. Pray the church is strengthened and encouraged to endure by this provision.
- Pray for Christians who suffer in prisons, labor camps and remote areas to have hope.