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NORTH KOREA CHRISTIANITY
The 1995-1998 North Korean famine starved to death an estimated 2 million people - about 10% of the population - and shook North Korea's faith in Juche. The closed, self-reliant economic model it espoused was supposed to beat capitalism and conquer the world. Yet, there they were, unable to even feed themselves.
That famine sent waves of North Koreans across the northern border is search of food in China. What they also found was an outside world that was economically and technologically far more advanced than their own, in stark contrast to what they had been told by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
The fact that North Koreans are beginning to recognize the economic and spiritual bankruptcy of Juche is evidenced by the recent resurgence of shamanism. Having had their faith in Juche rocked, the North Koreans are turning to gods other than Kim Il Sung. The rebellion has already begun, at least spiritually.
One of David Hawk's interviewees disclosed, "Fortune tellers are supposed to be arrested but in reality, they are not because even government officers, military officers, and police officers go to fortune tellers. I believe you can find a fortune telling house every two kilometers."
Another added, "Mudang and fortune tellers are very active in North Korea, but they are still illegal. However, even when their activities are disclosed and they are arrested by the authorities, they are released right away. North Korean authorities are making an effort to obliterate Christianity only."
Why "Christianity only"?
Hawk writes, "Interviewee 29, a former Gugkabowibu police official who became disillusioned and fled to China and subsequently to South Korea, reported that North Korean officials are anxious to catch believers because they fear "Christianity will defeat Juche.”
What is fueling that fear about Christianity?
The secret increasingly being unveiled is that not only is there Christianity - true Christianity - in North Korea, but that Christianity is actually expanding. As evidenced below by seven of Hawk's 40 interviewees, some of the Christians pre-date the Korean War and have worshipped in secret for over half a century. Others became Christian after hearing the Gospel in China, and still others, through their life-risking evangelism:
"Interviewee 10 brought back a bible from China, which she and her mother secretly read at home under a blanket. She also listened to the Christian radio station from South Korea and told her older sister and her husband about the Gospel."
"Interviewee 13 is a young woman from a pre-Korean War Christian family. Her mother and her mother's friends continued to gather to worship secretly in Hamhung, an industrial city near the East Sea, where many Christian families had been exiled after the Korean War."
"Interviewee 16, a woman in her sixties, also from Hamhung, knew of eight persons who were Christians who met secretly in groups of three and four to read handwritten bible verses."
"Interviewee 17, from North Pyong-an Province, had a Christian mother who attended church until 1947 and who kept her Bible. She had a friend in Pihyeon-goon (near Sinuiju), also near the border with China, who listened to Far Eastern Broadcasting (a South Korean Christian radio station)."
"Interviewee 18, from Musan, also had a pre-Korean War Christian mother who continued to worship in secret with two relatives, using a Bible that her grandfather had brought back from Japan years ago."
"Interviewee 22 never saw any organized worship, but in prison there was a “crazy woman” in her sixties who kept praying to God to save her. Another fellow prisoner, from Namyang, Onsung county, was in jail for a year because a Bible had been found in his house."
"Interviewee 32 was from Musan. She participated in an underground church of 12 members, all relatives, who received missionaries from China, just across the river."
How many Christians are in North Korea?
While there are no official statistics, the following account from another Hawk interviewee reveals an intriguing detail:
"Interviewee 14 told of his interrogation in the Onsong Gugkabowibu jail in 2001. The interrogators told the 68 persons being held in this small jail that all “followers of Jesus” were to stand up. Six did and were immediately taken away. The guards said that the six had been executed. However, the detainees later learned that the six had been taken to a gwalliso political penal labor colony at Jongsung. Interviewee 14 himself, after being deprived of food and sleep through seven long interrogations, finally gave up and confessed to belief. He was offered the opportunity to renounce his faith, pledge his loyalty to the Party, and be sent to a nodong danryeon dae labor training camp or mobile labor brigade."
Six of 68 detainees above weren't just Christians; they were Christians willing to stand up for Jesus and risk being executed. The fact that the interrogators then tortured the rest indicates that they believed other Christians were in the group. The interviewee was one of them, which means that at least 10% of the group were Christians.
How many of the others in the group were Christians? More to the point, what percent of the North Korean population is Christian today? We probably won't know until the Lord grants religious freedom in North Korea, but if the small sample above is reflective of the whole population, the number may turn out to be higher than 10%.
Is the underground church confined to North Korea's lower class?
Not necessarily. In late 2004, Voice of the Martyrs reported that a North Korean army general had been executed for evangelizing to his troops. If an army general was an evangelizing Christian, how many other generals and officers are Christians in secret?
In any case, since the military officers top the privileged class in the North Korean society, Christianity isn't confined to North Korea's lower class.
Has the tide turned?
David Hawk continues:
"Interviewee 32 was a twenty-one year old woman who converted to Christianity while in China. She went back to North Korea voluntarily in 2000 and was arrested by the Gugkabowibu in 2002 for evangelizing. She sought to convert her jailers. She convinced the police that she prayed for North Korea because she loved her country and the Korean people, and that this could not be a crime. According to this interviewee, her jailers told her, “You have committed a crime related to religion, but the general forgives you and you can go free.”
"Following repatriation in 2002, Interviewee 22 was detained initially in a Gugkabowibujail in Hoeryong. With her was an old women in her sixties who prayed constantly “for God to save her.” Other prisoners thought she was crazy. The old woman was released, and Interviewee 22, who at that point was not herself a believer, thought nonetheless that the old woman’s release must have been “God’s will.”
"Some interviewees testified that because so many North Koreans go to Korean-Chinese churches as a matter of course, the North Korean police no longer treat this, at least in some places along the border, as cause for additional punishment in and of itself."
Unfortunately, that was in 2005. More recent reports indicate that the Kim Jong Il government has since tightened its border, increasing the number of border guards, replacing or supporting them with army units, including sniper squad, and laying booby traps along the border.
Playing a logistically pivotal role in the ongoing spiritual battle for North Korea is its northern neighbor, China, where the North Koreans, especially women and girls, suffer yet more.