North Korea has been the most dangerous place to follow Jesus since 2002. But it’s certainly not the only country where Christians face extreme persecution. In many countries – including Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia – secret believers know that they could be imprisoned, tortured or even killed if their faith is discovered.
“If you’re arrested as a believer – in most cases, your life is over,” says Brother Simon, who has supported North Korean Christians through networks in China for many years. Like everyone involved in this work, it wouldn’t be safe to use his real name. “You will be sent to a detention centre and interrogated and tortured for a few months. If you survive that prison and aren’t executed, they will usually take you to a labour camp for political prisoners. Nobody is ever released from these camps.”
And it’s not just you. Every member of your family would be found guilty ‘by association’, and face the same punishment.
When you think about being a Christian from countries like North Korea, Eritrea or Iran, it seems almost impossible. And persecution is increasing. But, miraculously, so is the church. And you can be part of what God is doing to bring hope and life to believers who are following Jesus no matter the cost.
Across the river from North Korea, in China, Open Doors field workers run secret safe houses for North Korean Christians who have managed to escape. Through secret networks in China, they’re also able to provide vital food and spiritual support to more than 90,000 North Korean believers. That’s thanks to you, and the ongoing gifts and prayers of Open Doors supporters like you. Without your help, many more believers would die.
Peter and Matthew – again, not their real names – are among the extremely courageous Open Doors workers who work with North Korean believers. Their roles are very dangerous, but knowing they are supported by you gives them encouragement and strength.
“My work is to meet North Koreans who’ve already heard of Jesus,” says Peter. “To help them survive the North Korean system if they go back, I provide them with spiritual and physical help. This helps the underground church to preserve her faith from within North Korea.”
Matthew is very aware that he and Peter are putting their lives on the line. He hears many stories about Christian workers who are killed – even outside North Korea. In China, North Korean secret agents often track down and murder Christian missionaries. Can you imagine that feeling – of never being quite safe?
“Only some of these incidents are reported on the news,” Matthew says. “When I hear these things, I’m terrified. I’m sure the missionaries who were killed thought, “I’ll be fine.” But they were killed. And it can happen to me. Those fears surround me from time to time.
“Without your prayers, I cannot carry out this mission. Through your prayers, God pours out His grace.”
“Even as they go through tribulations and pain, North Korean Christians still look to God and pray to God,” says Peter. “We need to remember our brothers and sisters there. We must continue this work until North Korea is restored and overflows with holy worship and praise!”
Matthew agrees: “My true hope is – if God allows – that we, as a global church, are able to connect with North Korean believers. I believe we can help them. They can also share their testimonies with us. That’s what being ‘one body of Christ’ is all about.”
Brother Simon has supported North Korean believers for many years. Here, he explains what life is like for Christians in the most dangerous country in the world.
Q: How are North Korean Christians surviving during Covid?
Most North Korean Christians are already poor. There are often food shortages and, during the pandemic, food prices have quadrupled. A kilo of rice costs multiple months’ salary. North Koreans call Covid-19 the ‘ghost disease’. They are usually malnourished already, and many die quickly. Some just fall dead on the ground.
On top of this, Christians need to hide their faith. We even know stories of couples who were both secret Christians, but only found out years into their marriage.
Q: Is it easy to escape to China?
It’s much more dangerous nowadays than in the 1990s. People used to swim across the river separating North Korea from China, or even walk across in winter. Now the border is much more heavily guarded on both sides. You need to spend thousands of dollars on bribes, and even then you don’t have a guarantee. Often, the soldiers have a quota: they need to arrest a certain number of border-crossers.
Once you’re in China, you’re illegal and can be arrested. Many women are trafficked into marriages with Chinese men. That’s an awful fate, but still better than staying in North Korea, many say. Christians come to China so they can receive biblical teaching and fellowship, as well as food. Amazingly, many believers choose to return home to North Korea.
Q: What is your vision for the North Korean church?
Four words: survive, strengthen, equip, go.
If you’re desperately hungry, you can’t do ministry. The first concern of the persecuted church is survival. It doesn’t stop there, however. Even though their circumstances are difficult, they want to be God’s witnesses and reach their own people with the gospel.
God has miraculously opened the door for Christians to reach us in China. Your support means they receive food, medicines and other essentials. We strengthen and equip them with training in our safe houses, and broadcast radio programmes. We hope to double our reach in the coming years.
To Open Doors supporters, I say – thank you so much for your dedication. I have seen the church change because of your support. One North Korean believer said to me, about foreign brothers and sisters: “You have never seen our faces and you don’t know our names, but you love us.”
Please join with this prayer, written by a secret believer. Amazingly, she managed to smuggle it out of North Korea.
Whether we live or die, we do it with our faithful fellow workers who walk faithfully on the same road as us. Thank you for these fellow workers, who have such a strong faith, a faith that is continuously refined by fire.
Lord! Don’t you know everything about us? Don’t you see everything that’s in us? Lord! We love you! Lord! Thank you! I will follow you until I die! Amen.
Lord! We give thanks to you that we have become the seed of the gospel. Thanks to You, we are the hope in the dry land that is North Korea. We thank You that we can sow seeds with tears in our eyes, while at the same time, we dream about the green pastures that Christ will lead us to.
Please use us. We are Christ’s Army and want to bring the gospel to the end of the world. We want to be Your witnesses and spread Your blessings. Let me be Your worker for the Glory! Hold my hands until I meet You! Let me be obedient wherever You lead me! Let me be Your joy, and a good Christian.
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