Since 2002, North Korea has been the place where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Thanks to you, Open Doors secret fieldworkers are supporting Christians who've managed to flee to China, through underground networks.
Now, first, imagine that you can’t meet in person.
That won’t take a big stretch of the imagination, given the past twelve months. But now imagine you don’t even know who the other members of your church are. And that it would be dangerous if you found out. And even more dangerous if anybody found out you were a Christian.
How would anybody find out? People in your neighbourhood would be trained to spot you. They wouldn’t just be looking for signs that you met with other believers – they’d be trained to spot if you closed your eyes briefly before eating food, or inadvertently hummed a Christian song. Even your children might give the game away. They would be told to inform their teachers if they see you reading from a black book.
North Korea: the most dangerous place to follow Jesus since 2002
This is the risk faced by Christians every day in North Korea. Since 2002, it’s been the most dangerous place in the world to follow Jesus, according to extensive World Watch List research. 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 (see Q&A, below). 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.
Your help supported 90,000 North Korean Christians last year
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.
“Without your prayers, I cannot carry out this mission”
“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.”
The courage of Open Doors workers
As Matthew says, your prayers make an enormous difference. Truly, Matthew and Peter are living out John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” And it’s not just the fear of being caught. The conditions that Open Doors workers operate in can be extraordinarily harsh.
“It’s sometimes below -30℃ in winter,” says Peter. “And winter lasts for six months. I remember one night, it was one o’clock in the morning and the temperature was below -28℃. I was supposed to meet a local contact. But he didn’t answer my calls and he wasn’t where we’d arranged to meet. I tried to contact him for three hours. At about four o’clock, my phone rang. It was his number. When I answered, I heard a strange man asking, ‘Who are you?’”
This is exactly the sort of call that field workers like Peter dread. “I was so shocked that it felt like I was struck on the head. Immediately, I threw my phone on the ground and smashed it with a stone. Then I threw it in a drain hole. But I had nowhere to go in this strange city. I stood in the freezing cold until the next morning. As soon as I could, I got on a bus and left the city.”
Later, Peter heard that his contact was being investigated by agents from North Korea.
God’s plan for North Korea
“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.”
These courageous men see a future when the North Korean church can be a beacon for Christ’s love in the world. “I believe, in God’s time, He will use North Korean believers as powerful missionaries for other persecuted areas,” says Matthew.
You can be part of God’s plans for North Korea too, and for other countries where Christians can’t yet shout from the rooftops about the love of God. You can use your freedom to speak out, pray and give to your church family facing extreme persecution. Please show them that they are not alone and not forgotten – not ever.
Brother Simon has supported North Korean believers for many years. Here, you can read 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo: Michal Bašo