Story North Korea | 18 October 2023

What Christianity can cost in North Korea


Show: false / Country: North Korea / North Korea
“It was early in the morning”, says Yong Sook*, an elderly North Korean woman now living in South Korea. “My mother was making breakfast when someone knocked on the door. I shuffled to the door in my slippers and opened it. Immediately, five police agents barged in. Without taking their shoes off! I was so shocked. Everyone was afraid and petrified.”

In North Korea, a Bible is a treasure to be hidden, prayers are unspoken and Christian songs are silent. The country consistently ranks at the top of Open Doors’ World Watch List  because the ruling Kim regime hates Christianity. Yong Sook was about to find this out the hard way.

Yong Sook had no idea why the police trashed their home. She was frightened and confused as to why they had arrested her loved ones.

“Nobody came to comfort me,” she says. “We had to stay in the corner all day while they were searching everything. They were looking for thick books. I thought maybe there was a gun hidden inside one of those books and they [were searching] for that.”

But that was not the case. They came because the names of Yong Sook’s family members were on the arrest list to arrest. Her father and grandfather were among those taken in that day.

Yong Sook’s 83-year-old grandfather denied his faith and blamed everything on his son. He was released because of his age.

“He was so afraid of what they would do to him,” Yong Sook says. “He was the real secret Christian. My father didn’t believe, but his name was on the list. My grandfather lied out of fear and blamed everything on my father. The police believed him, and he went home.” Her father remained in detention.
‘We lived in fear’
In the months that followed, life was harsh for the family.

“We lived in fear,” Yong Sook remembers. “Each day might be the last one in our beautiful house in Pyongyang. Where was my father? Was he still alive? What would they do to us? Will we be deported to a political camp? Everybody knew we betrayed the country. The whole society turned its back on us. For months, the cops came and interrogated my mother. She had to sit on her knees and answer all those questions.”

Six months after his arrest, Yong Sook’s father unexpectedly returned to his family, showing up at the house in Pyongyang. One look at him revealed the reality of the prison camp horrors they had heard about all their lives.

“He was skin and bones. He looked like a skeleton,” Yong Sook says. “My father was [more dead] than alive. He was depressed and silent. Before the arrest, he had a nice job, a manager at the train station. Now he was the one carrying luggage to the trains. He was also very frightened that they would come for him again.”

Her father’s return also changed her grandfather.

“From the day he saw his son again, he did not speak to him anymore. Not a single word. He felt so guilty, he couldn’t even make eye contact.”

Yong Sook says her father never talked about his experience inside the prison, just how one day, he was called to the prison courtyard where there were about 140 other people standing at the square. They were also imprisoned because they were thought to be Christians, listed as members of the Christian network.

The gate slowly opened, and the entire group was instructed to walk outside, he told his daughter. As they moved, the guards called the names of those who had to return. Yong Sook’s father denied he was a Christian, and about half of the prisoners did the same thing. They were allowed to leave while others who didn’t deny their faith walked back to their cells and presumably died in a labor camp.

Eventually, Yong Sook’s entire family—spanning four generations—was exiled to a remote village where they were forced to work for the government. They now belonged to North Korea’s “hostile class.”
Suspended between heaven and earth
As Christians in the free world, we often take for granted the freedom to practice our faith. Unlike Yong Sook’s grandfather, we can freely read our Bibles in cafes. We can sing hymns of praise, even on the street. But on the other side of the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ whisper their prayers and hide their Bibles in the ground.

The extreme measures Christians take to not be discovered—as well as the extreme punishments they endure if they are discovered—are horrific reminders that North Korea, fueled by the Kim regime, not only hates Christianity but is also frightened by it.

Weeks after his miraculous conversion, as Paul preached the gospel in the synagogue, Jewish leaders conspired to kill him. Acts 9 tells us that day and night, they kept close watch on the Damascus city gates to kill Paul. But Paul learned of their plan and under cover of night, his followers lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

In many ways, our North Korean family, like Yong Sook’s grandfather, live suspended between heaven and earth, like Paul in the basket—facing a daily struggle to survive and live out the gospel against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty. Just as Paul did throughout his ministry, North Korean secret believers embody earthly suffering while their hearts echo with the promise of Heaven, and they must weigh their lives in how they live out their faith. Yong Sook’s grandfather was never the same after his lie; but it’s not difficult to see the impossible situation he was in.

North Korean Christians risk everything to follow Jesus. Sometimes, the stories have endings like Yong Sook’s family. But other times, believers are able to fly under the radar, worshiping the God they know makes them vulnerable to their government. But it’s worth it. In the words of a North Korean Christian: “The Father’s love is amazing. We are the debtors of His love. I want to walk this way of faith and obey even to death. Tell God’s people—who are running and running to help us—that we will practice the love of the Father here, in North Korea.”

Through secret networks in China, Open Doors secret partners are helping around 100,000 North Korean believers by providing vital food and aid, shelter and discipleship training for North Korean refugees at safe houses in China, and training through radio broadcasting from outside the country.

*top image: representative only
please pray

Pray with us for your North Korean family:

  • Pray for the safety and protection of Christians in North Korea.
  • Pray for the underground churches to remain steadfast. Pray for the Christian believers, that their faith will grow stronger amid these persecutions.
  • Pray for the safety of our local partners as they minister and help believers who manage to make it to China.
  • Pray for a strong harvest of crops and that our family would have food to survive and share with others.
  • Pray that North Koreans will open their eyes to see the truth. Throughout their lives, they have been indoctrinated with the state’s propaganda and multiple ideologies. Please pray for freedom in North Korea.
  • Pray that North Korea’s underground church would be prepared to disciple their family and friends when the company opens up.

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