Old Bibles from the middle of the 20th century. These were used by secret Christians in North Korea.
Kim Da-bin* looks around nervously. It’s after midnight, and the moon lights her way as she sneaks out into the woods near her home. There’s no one around, and the air is still and cool. She’s carrying a small shovel under her jacket. She finds the spot on the ground, and she begins to dig as quietly as she can.
Soon she’s unearthed what she’s after. She brushes the dirt off the plastic bag, and opens it to retrieve what’s inside.
The small book falls into her hand with a small thud; the sound is barely noticeable, but in the night time quiet, it sounds like a gunshot.
She looks around—no one has noticed her. And so, she takes the book, puts it in her jacket pocket, and slips back into her home.
Once inside, she shuts the curtains, pulls the book out of her pocket, opens it, and begins to read.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. For your rod and staff, they comfort me.”
She can barely make out the text; it’s an older form of Korean that isn’t used much anymore. But this little book is her most treasured possession.
After she finishes reading, she again walks quietly outside, puts the small Bible back into the bag, puts it back into the hole and covers it with dirt again. As quietly as she can, she makes sure she hasn’t left any trace of her work. She sneaks back into her house, and falls into bed. It’s another night with God’s Word, another night where she wasn’t caught.
It’s another night in North Korea, the place where having a Bible can get you killed.
Risking death for God’s Word
Kim Da-bin isn’t a real person. But her story is all too real. It’s based on countless photos and stories Open Doors has heard from North Korean Christians who have managed to get messages out to our teams in the region.
We’ve heard about the risks, and we’ve prayed with and cried with the Christians who still follow Jesus despite those risks. We’ve seen the Bibles that were buried and reburied for years by faithful believers. They do all of this even as they live under a regime who will execute people for having a Bible. Even leaving a Bible in a public place is enough to lead to imprisonment.
These are just some of the reasons that North Korea has been No. 1 on the World Watch List for 20 years.
What worship looks like in North Korea
An Open Doors field worker describes what worship is like for a North Korean believer: “The curtains are pulled and very, very softly, you read from the Bible to your wife and 16-year-old son. You’ve only recently shared the gospel with him. Now he’s old enough and wise enough not to accidentally betray you. Of course, he didn’t understand the gospel at first, but you’re teaching him. You’ve been praying for years that he’d be ready.
“You read the Bible in the dark, you pray; the words are hardly audible. Do you sing in whispers? Maybe—when you’re in a bold mood.”
In North Korea, children stumble across a Bible in the way that kids in the free world find the Christmas gifts their parents have hidden from them. “In our house, [there] was a hidden closet,” says Kim Sang-Hwa, who grew up in North Korea. “When I was 12, I accidentally found it…I opened the book and began to read: ‘In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”…I also had all these questions: ‘Who is this God? Or ‘what’?’”
Doing anything to get God’s Word to His people
Bibles and Christian books were so precious to North Korean believers that they kept them hidden and passed them along to one another.
Despite the risks, North Korean Christians are still hungry for the Bible—and they’ll risk everything to read it and grow in faith.
Whether it’s buried, listened to on the radio, smuggled in and kept for generations or kept in a hidden closet, God’s Word is alive and active in North Korea. Through the Holy Spirit, it’s strengthening the faith of Christians in North Korea, reminding them of God’s love and the truth of His work for them.
This is why Open Doors is committed to helping North Koreans have access to Bibles, no matter what.
A secret church leader said, “I’m convinced these materials will contribute to their spiritual growth. We, the church leaders, are committed and dedicated to giving our lives again for our responsibilities in Christ. We remember your love and trust towards us. We will teach our North Korean believers with the words of our God and keep focusing on the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.”
Through the Bibles and discipleship materials that make it into North Korea, God is strengthening His Church, who stand strong for Him, no matter the risk.
“Pray for them. Pray for those that do missionary work, and assist them. Please pray for human rights and the freedom for North Koreans to worship Jesus Christ. Imagine the desperation of the people who live in such a place. The Kingdom of God must soon be realized upon the land. Please pray for the ones who believe in Jesus Christ.”
Help strengthen the church and encourage Christians in North Korea
Open Doors has been supporting North Korean Christians as they follow Jesus by providing emergency relief and discipleship through partners in China.