• Malaysia: Baptisms despite severe flooding

    Like most countries Malaysia has been struggling with a severe outbreak of Covid-19, but earlier this month flooding killed several people and displaced around 50,000 others. But, in the midst of the floods and a global pandemic, five believers still chose to get baptised.

    Image: The baptisms took place in a river

    “Amid this natural disaster, there is space for praise,” shares Mikal (not her real name), a local OD partner. “Five new believers were added to a church… To hear from three pastors that a lot of them are beginning to grow so much in their faith and have shared the faith with their neighbours too (is fantastic).”

    Heavy monsoon rains have led to intense flooding and a landslide in the past two weeks: “In some states, flood waters have gotten so high, you can only see the roof of homes and buildings,” Mikal said.

    This disaster, coupled with an intensified Covid lockdown, hit believers hard.

    “Some of the believers who work in fields to grow crops had a major loss during the first Covid lockdown, when they were unable to harvest any of their crops as policemen were nearby making sure that everyone stayed inside,” shares Mikal. “They didn’t lose hope and began to replant, but just as it was time to harvest their crops again, the floods destroyed their crops.”

    “It’s been very difficult. I know that these men – these farmers – are full of faith, but this has really challenged them,” Mikal continues.

    About Malaysia

    Malaysia in number 46 on the 2021 World Watch List, a ranking of countries where Christians face the worst persecution. In Malaysia, the government and other religious groups monitor churches. It is illegal to share the gospel with Malay Muslims. Converts from Islam to Christianity experience the most persecution, as every ethnic Malay is expected to be Muslim. These believers are often forced to hide their faith and meet in secret. If discovered, they could face divorce from their spouse, rejection from their family – or even risk being sent to a re-education camp.

    Pray now…

    Please pray for our friends, our partners, the believers we serve, and everyone else affected by the floods. Pray for the waters to subside soon and people to be able to rebuild their lives. Pray too for an improvement in the Covid situation in the country.

  • China: Christians charged for distributing audio Bibles

    The last few years have seen a big increase in the crackdown on Christian activity in China. Last month, five Christians were charged for involvement in the distribution of audio Bibles. In the latest World Watch List, released last week, China re-entered the top 20 for the first time in a decade.

    On 9 December 2020, four men part of Life Tree Communication Co. Ltd, which mainly sells audio Bibles, appeared in court in Shenzhen, south-east China, on charges of ‘illegal business operations’. The prosecutor recommended a prison sentence of five years for the business owner, Fu Xuanjuan, and sentences of between 18 months and three years for his three colleagues.

    Two days earlier, on 7 December, Lai Jinqiang appeared in the same court on charges of selling audio Bibles. Open Doors understands that his case is ongoing, with the court yet to reach a verdict.

    Image: A Chinese mother shares stories from the Bible with her daughter

    High demand for Bibles

    “Audio Bible players first appeared in China around 2006 and they became popular, especially in rural house churches,” a local source told Open Doors. The devices are easy to use and, unlike printed Bibles, are widely available on the internet. They also contain sermons, songs and other Christian content.

    One of the leading distributors in this growing market is Lai Jinqiang. “He focused on making audio Bible players for the older Chinese Christians who were not familiar with finding sermons and worship songs on the internet,” the source said. “The scale of production was ramped up and it reached tens of thousands of devices and even more over the years.”

    The source believes Lai’s business likely caught the attention of authorities some time before being charged. “His trial is most likely part of the bigger crackdown on the Christian churches, which started seven to eight years ago and has, particularly in the last two years, developed into a nationwide repression of Christian activities.”

    Image: A street scene from the Chinese city of Yanji

    Changing the Bible

    Restricting distribution of audio Bibles is not the only way in which the Chinese authorities are seeking to stop its citizens from being impacted by God’s Word.

    In church raids – which are becoming increasingly common – Bibles are often confiscated and verses on walls defaced. In 2018, printed Bibles were removed from online platforms. Now they can only be sold in state-affiliated church bookshops. Bible apps are popular and still accessible, though closure of some apps on online platforms have been reported.

    Meanwhile, the Bible itself is being manipulated according to socialist values. Churches have been forced to display government-prepared posters which feature Bible verses that reflect the 12 principles of socialism, including prosperity, democracy, patriotism and dedication. Furthermore, an official ethics textbook includes an appalling interpretation of Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). In it, instead of Jesus calling off a crowd who want to stone the woman, Jesus stones her himself, saying, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.” It’s a blatant and sinister change to the original meaning of this woman’s encounter with Jesus.

    According to one report, the Chinese government announced in 2019 that they will be producing an ‘official translation’ of the Bible as part of ‘a comprehensive evaluation of the existing religious classics aiming at contents which do not conform to the progress of the times’. Any content deemed incompatible with socialist values will be changed.

    Pray now…

    These are concerning times for Christians in China as the government seeks to stifle and suppress Christian freedom – and, in doing so, stop the number of Christians exceeding that of the Chinese Communist Party. Please pray:

    • That all charges against the five men will be dropped, and that each of them (and their families) will continue to stay strong in their faith and know that their ‘labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:58)
    • That every Christian in China will have access to a Bible
    • That the authorities will recognise the sanctity and power of the Bible and will stop reinterpreting it according to socialist values.

    Pre order 2021 World Watch List resources…

    Inspired by these stories of brave faith from China? Find out more with our all new 2021 World Watch List resources. We’ve produced an all new map with country stickers and stories, plus a special youth leader guide too.

  • China: The church is being watched and restricted

    This year, the Chinese Communist Party turns 100. But whilst the nation celebrates, Christians are being increasingly crushed under the weight of increased regulation and oppressive surveillance.

    The turn of the century brought relative freedoms for Chinese believers, but recent years have seen a squeeze on Christian expression. It’s led to China jumping six places to 17 in the latest World Watch List – the first time in a decade it’s been in the top 20.

    As China’s economic prowess and influence has grown, so has Chinese nationalism: religion – seen by President Xi Jinping as a potential destabiliser and incompatible with socialist ideology – must be ‘directed’ rather than given free rein.

    From church closures to intrusive surveillance, interference with sermons to the reinterpretation of Bible passages, the clampdown is hitting Christians from all sides – and it may yet get worse.

    Young people aren’t allowed in church

    In Shandong province, a woman took her child to a state-affiliated church. You might not think that sounds like much of an issue. But the child’s attendance was captured on CCTV and the church was reprimanded – because it’s illegal for under-18s to go to church. Across China, this is quickly becoming the ‘new normal’: law and surveillance combining to thwart Christian freedom.

    Churches watched and pressured

    Pastors have been told to attend their local police station to report on church activities. Landlords have been pressured to terminate rental contracts with house churches. Churches have been raided and shut, with Bibles confiscated and interiors defaced. One church registered to avoid closure, only to find that a submitted list of names (part of the registration process) was used to threaten and insult older believers.

    “Raids happen quickly,” says Caleb, an Open Doors partner whose name, like all those featured in this article, has been changed. “Some churches have been shut down. One was in a five-storey building in a small city. The church took up two floors of the building and had enough seating for 200 brothers and sisters. This venue was raided, shut down and sealed off. The authorities came inside and smashed all the equipment. New renovations were also destroyed. The believers were devastated.”

    There have also been reports of churches being pressured to fly the national flag higher than the cross and sing the national anthem before church services, and a pastor said recently, “Every time I preach now I am expected to praise the government rather than Jesus, and I don’t like it.

    Even in their own homes, Christians have little room to breathe – a suspicious neighbour could inform on them to the authorities, for financial reward.

    Cameras follow your every move

    The suffocation of Christianity in China is made worse by the country’s intrusive use of technology. There are an estimated 570 million CCTV cameras in China, including many in churches. Many have facial recognition software. This is linked to a ‘social credit system’ which also monitors ‘loyalty’ and party dissension.

    Worryingly, social credit is already being linked to religion. In provinces such as Shanxi, Henan and Jiangxi, Christians have been threatened with the removal of social-welfare benefits, including pensions, if they refuse to replace Christian imagery such as crosses with pictures of President Xi Jinping.

    Even online, church activities are closely monitored and, in the case of some state-affiliated churches, services have been ordered to stop.

    How are Christians reacting?

    This year could see the state tighten its grip even further. Believers are being forced to retreat or react. Sadly, in some cases, fear is forcing Christians to retreat. It’s an understandable reaction. After all, how would you respond if put in their position?

    But there are also many believers who are courageously stepping up. The Chinese church is learning to downsize, meet ‘underground’, be versatile, and prepare ‘escape plans’ in the event of a raid.

    “Many house churches are like water in a river,” Caleb says. “Whenever an obstacle is encountered, they will not fight it with their own flesh. Instead, they will stream past the obstacles and change course and continue to flow towards the big ocean, which is the Great Commission. The ultimate destination never changes. It’s just the way we do church is periodically adjusted or modified, to sustain the continuous growth of the kingdom against all odds.”

    In its centenary year, the Chinese Communist Party wants to suck the life out of the country’s Christian witness. Believers are feeling the squeeze and desperately need your prayers. But there is hope. Every time a wave of persecution has come against the Chinese church, God has breathed fresh life into it. He’ll do so again – and you have an instrumental role to play.

    Pray this…

    Lord God, we are amazed at the astonishing growth of the Chinese church over the years, despite persecution. Give Christians a renewed sense of the wonder, power and love of Jesus, that it will strengthen and boldly galvanise their faith and witness. Provide leaders and buildings for churches, and unleash a wave of creativity so churches continue to thrive. May we yet see more tremendous growth of the church in China. Amen.

    Pre order 2021 World Watch List resources…

    Inspired by these stories of brave faith from China? Find out more with our all new 2021 World Watch List resources. We’ve produced an all new map with country stickers and stories, plus a special youth leader guide too.

  • World Watch List: What if your church had to meet in secret?

    Can you imagine what it feels like for your church to have to meet in secret? In many countries in the World Watch List top 50, Christians don’t have to imagine – the only way they can meet to worship is in secret.

    They meet in houses or apartments. They gather on remote mountainsides, or deep in the jungle. They disguise their meetings, so that services look like simple meals or baptisms look like swimming parties.

    Their courage and ingenuity are beyond question, but the pressure is intense. For secret Christians in Eritrea (no. 6 on the 2021 World Watch List), for example, there is no let up. At school Christian children need to be careful what they say. And at home, neighbours are always on the alert for any signs of secret gatherings.

    “Christians continue to receive teaching and pray together,” says Eyal, an Eritrean underground church leader (whose name has been changed, for security reasons). “It is very difficult. We are watched all the time. Believers cannot move around freely and this makes outreach very difficult. But as hard as it is, we have to continue.”

    In the background, behind every secret church meeting in Eritrea is the fear of a police raid. Musse (name changed) is a church leader who was sent to an Eritrean prison – yet even there he found a way to meet with other believers. More than that, he shared the gospel.

    Sharing the gospel in prison

    “In prison, one of my main purposes as a Christian was to evangelise,” he says. “You continue teaching. Of course, it is forbidden to do it openly, but we did it at night-time when everybody was asleep. We even had Bible portions we could study in secret.”

    He found people desperate for hope. “Those people loved what we taught and shared. Some of them even tried to cover for us. We saw many conversions. The gospel can’t be chained.”

    However, when pastors are arrested, secret churches are often left without leaders. That’s why Open Doors underground networks help train church leaders, as well as providing smuggled Bibles and Christian literature, and digital teaching and discipleship resources.

    And, amazingly, the church is still alive, still witnessing, still growing. In countries like Libya, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea even, the church is standing strong.

    Thank you for standing with your family

    “Thank you for your help to us, thank you for praying, thank you for being on our side,” says Eyal. “With the help of God and because of you, we are doing our Christian activities. We are coming together, meeting and helping people in different ways.

    “No one, not even the government, can block the gospel.”

    Pray now…

    • For the good news of the gospel to be heard, understood and responded to in prisons across the world
    • For continued strength and faith for courageous underground church leaders
    • Praise God for His steadfast love for the persecuted church.

    Pre order 2021 World Watch List resources…

    Inspired by stories of brave faith from Eritrea? Find out more with our all new 2021 World Watch List resources. We’ve produced an all new map with country stickers and stories, plus a special youth leader guide too.

  • China: No under 18s!

    In China, where it’s illegal for under-18s to join in with any church events. Watch the video below to hear how Open Doors worker Simon* was helping to run a secret youth camp when it was raided by the authorities.

    Pray now…

    • For Simon and his work training pastors to engage with young people
    • That despite the restrictions, young people in China would continue to hear about Jesus and choose to follow him
    • For the work of Open Doors in China, that the Chuch would grow strong and be supported in the midst of pressure and persecution.

    *Name changed for security reasons
    From Open Doors Prayer News 282 (Jan-Feb 2021)

  • Kenya: Christmas under Covid-19

    Christmas might be a bit of a distant memory now, but it’s never too late to share some good news from the festive season – your gifts and prayers made an enormous difference at Christmas for this community in Kenya.

    In Kenya, as in many other countries, large numbers of persecuted Christians have been left without jobs or income, due to restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. It’s often extremely difficult for these believers to find food to eat every day, let alone anything special to celebrate the birth of Christ. But you stepped in.

    Food, fellowship and festivities

    With your support, Open Doors partners were able to host small Christmas celebrations for believers across Kenya who are struggling financially – following local Covid-19 guidance and restrictions. While celebrations had to be smaller than usual for some believers, for others this was their first time having a Christmas event with other Christians – many are the only Christians in their Muslim-majority communities, making it difficult to openly acknowledge Christmas.

    “I’m grateful to God, because He helped us to survive this year,” says a believer called Gani. “That’s not our doing. Only His might. Thank you for this celebration.”

    Thanks to you, believers were able to celebrate through song, prayer and food. In some regions, particularly in the far north of Kenya, Open Doors partners were also able to combine the celebrations with extra food parcels for vulnerable believers in desperate need of food aid.

    “May God bless you,” says one Kenyan believer. “You did not only remember us with the Covid-19 relief that you brought, but you have also given us presents and happiness during Christmas. Thank you!”

    Christmas celebrations see new believers

    Even more amazingly, one region dominated by followers of folk Islam (which combines Islam with local traditional religions) saw many people turn to follow Jesus. A pastor from that community, who ministers to a small number of believers and who received help from Open Doors partners, got in touch to pass on the good news:

    “Thank you for your support to help us organise this event. Many souls who witnessed the celebration dedicated their lives to Christ. They received Christ as their Christmas gift! We thank Open Doors once again.”

    Pray now…

    • Thank God for His provision to His children in Kenya, and that He uses Open Doors supporters’ gifts and prayers
    • For continuing faith and discipleship for new believers in Kenya
    • That isolated and new believers would be protected from attack and rejection.
  • North Korea: Hear from those supporting secret Christians

    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.

    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.”

    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.”

    Q&A with Brother Simon

    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.”

    Pray now

    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.

    Do something now…

    Invite your MP to the launch of the 2021 World Watch List so they get to hear all about the persecution Christians are facing around the world. It’ll take just a minute, and the simple form will find your MP for you!

  • Middle East: Amazing story of Bible smuggling going wrong (but very right)…

    The Middle East is made up of some of the most dangerous countries to be a Christian. Extremism, war, government oppression and domestic abuse put the lives of millions of Christians at risk.

    Yet, in the midst of extreme hardship, some Christians are choosing to risk it all to ensure others receive the life-giving message of the gospel.

    John* is a Bible smuggler, taking secret Bibles into places where it is most difficult to access the Word of God.

    “It was 9:30pm when I was stopped at customs,” John recalled. “The man asked me to open my suitcase. So, I opened it. The man opened several of my special ‘presents’ and asked me who they were for or where I wanted to sell them. I told him that I personally wanted to give these presents to thank the people for being welcoming in the country.

    “I was held and interrogated at the police station for many hours during the night. I was ques-tioned by customs officers and local policemen. Once there were even five interrogators at the same time.

    “(An official) said that I was different from the others. I started to talk with him. He told me that his father was seriously ill. [I offered prayer], he agreed and I prayed for him. After that, I told him my testimony and explained how important Jesus is for me. From my pocket I took a small New Tes-tament.

    “He accepted Jesus as his saviour. I had tears in my eyes.

    “He said that he would help me to solve my problem. He asked me to follow him to get the books. The situation was solved, and I could put the books back in my suitcase. At about 8am he took me to my plane.

    “I travelled with half the suitcases full of Arab Bibles. The next day, we called our contact person. We cannot say his name. He picked us up and we headed to the building of his church where the planned handover would take place.

    “I thanked the Lord I had peace, the peace of God that transcends all understanding. I saw the hand of God in all that happened. It went different than I had planned. He decided to change everything for this one soul. I was just a spectator. Thanks to my Father. Thank you Jesus.”

    Bible smuggling is a mission full of risks, and, from time to time, it can go wrong. But for John, what he thought was a failed plan turned into an incredible opportunity. One which brought a rare chance to share the gospel in a way he never imagined.

    *Name changed for security purposes.

    Pray now…

    • Thank God for this amazing story and for Christians like John, bravely trying to strengthen the church across the Middle East.
    • Pray you’d know God’s guidance this Christmas and would follow his lead when talking to friends and family.

    Share this Christmas with your persecuted family!

    Many Christians can’t openly celebrate Christmas, like us due to Covid-19, they face restrictions and limitations. This year, why not share Christmas with some young persecuted Christians. Learn their stories in our youth sessions and videos, write a Christmas card or message to encourage them and even send a gift.

  • Egypt: Miriam’s dad is released!

    Four months ago, a Christian from Egypt called Bakhit (68) was abducted by a masked gunman. But last week, praise God, he was released. Open Doors partners spoke to his daughter, Miriam (21) last week.

    She said, “I prayed a lot to God for the return of my father to us, I was crying and praying at the same time. I hadn’t lost the hope of his return, I had a strong feeling that he would return one day. I thank God so much for answering my prayers and the prayers of the others. The joy of my father’s return is an indescribable joy.

    “My life was stolen from me in my father’s absence. More than four months passed since my father was kidnapped. I felt like these four months were four years because of the severe pain of his absence.

    “Now life has returned to me. His return to our home has returned the joy that was absent from my heart. Life has come back and laughs at me again. Hopelessness has become hope, and sadness has turned into joy. My father is my heart, he is more precious than the light of my eyes, his presence among us at home now makes us feel safe.”

    While Miriam is thankful for her father’s safe return, the family are still waiting to hear news of her brother, Osama. He was kidnapped in in July 2016 and the family hasn’t seen him since.

    Miriam prays: “I thank You, Lord, so much that You stood up with my father and saved him, and as You have made me happy with my father’s return. Please complete my joy with the return of my brother Osama soon.

    Miriam is grateful for your prayers. “I would like to thank everyone prayed for the return of my father. May God bless all of you.”

    Pray now…

    Lord Jesus, thank You for the safe return of Bakhit. Please heal him and help him to settle back into ordinary life. Fill the family with Your Spirit and help them to walk in step with You. Please bring their brother Osama home safe; may he know Your presence with Him where He is.

    Do something to support persecuted Christians this Christmas…

    1. Download and use our Finding Family group resources…
    2. Write a Christmas message to young Christians facing persecution in Colombia…
    3. Send a gift to a young persecuted Christians as a present for a friend or loved one…
    4. Ask your MP to attend the World Watch List launch on 13 January 2021…
  • North Korea: What will Christmas be like?

    Written by North Korean escapee Timothy Cho (who now lives in the West)

    It wasn’t possible to celebrate Christmas during my life in North Korea. I hadn’t even heard of it. There is no Christmas, but they have created their own version of Christmas Eve. On 24th December, it is the birthday of the wife of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea – her name is Kim Jong-suk. Schools, universities, factories, and public institutions all have to participate in singing in the evening, similar to carol singing, and celebrate her birthday.

    Image: North Korean musicians perform for tourists

    I used to join a singing evening at my school to celebrate Kim Jong-suk’s birthday. During the day, I also took flowers to her statues.

    She died at the age of 31 during the birth of her fourth child. Only two of her children survived into adulthood – Kim Jong-il and his sister Kim Kyung-Hee. Kim Jong-il, the founder of North Korea, grew up without his mother’s love, and he missed her. This may be why, when Kim Jong-il set up his family as idols!

    But there are other purposes for celebrating Kim Jong-suk’s birthday. She is held up as a role model for the people in North Korea, demonstrating her loyalty to Kim Il-sung. There are many propaganda portraits and stories that say she was willing to be shot and killed for Kim Il-sung.

    This is part of the reason why Christians face such extreme persecution in North Korea. Every citizen is expected to be completely loyal to Kim Il-sung and his family – even willing to die for him. Instead, the secret believers in North Korea recognise a greater authority than the Kims, and are willing to die for someone else – Jesus.

    Christmas for secret believers

    North Korean secret believers can’t celebrate Christmas publicly. If their secret celebrations of Christmas are discovered, that can lead to their whole family being arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. They must keep most of their celebrations in their hearts. With the food crisis in the country, it’s hard to imagine the believers having special food for Christmas this year. They might whisper hymns and pray in a hidden place, perhaps secretly reading the Bible if they have one.

    Despite the persecution they face, our brothers and sisters in North Korea have hope, and don’t just pray for themselves, but also for others – for their neighbours, friends, colleagues, even their oppressors. They’re obedient in following the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44, which says, “Pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you.”

    Image: North Korean propaganda in a school

    Sharing Christmas with believers from North Korea

    We may be thousands of miles away and living very different lives, but in our hearts, we will share the joy of Christmas with the secret believers in North Korea, our brothers and sisters, remembering that Jesus came to earth for each one of us.

    And your prayers and support are helping to bring hope and joy to North Korean believers this Christmas. For each believer who secretly listens to the Christian radio programmes broadcast by Open Doors into North Korea, or stays in a safe house in China, or receives food and medicines through our networks in China, this is a sign to them that they are loved by their global church family, and by our Heavenly Father.

    This Christmas, please pray:

    • Pray for protection for the secret believers, that they will be safe in God’s hands, and that they will continue to be the salt and light in their communities. Pray this verse for them: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
    • Pray that God will mobilise more of His people and community to reach out to those in starvation, in prison camps, on the streets, in orphanages, that desperate people in North Korea might know the hope of tomorrow in their hearts.
    • Pray for the leadership of North Korea, as our prayers can deeply penetrate even the hard hearts of Kim Jong-un and the other leaders of the regime. Pray that they will recognise their responsibility to protect their citizens from starvation, persecution, and injustice.
    • Pray that, despite the risks, the secret church in North Korea will be able to reach out to others with God’s love, even in this deeply tyrannical country.
    • Pray that one day soon, there will be freedom on the whole Korean peninsula, and that once again Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, will be known as the Second Jerusalem of East Asia.

    Do something now. Tell your MP…

    Each year, Open Doors launches the World Watch List, an annual ranking of the places where Christians face the worst persecution. Could you invite your MP to be at the launch in 2021? This is our opportunity to inform those in power of the discrimination faced by our persecuted family and how local faith leaders are courageously serving the needs of their communities. Invite your MP to the 2021 World Watch List launch so they can hear about the 50 countries where it is the most dangerous to follow Jesus, alongside first-hand accounts from persecuted Christians. It’ll take less than a minute using this simple form…

  • We support people who are beaten, tortured,
    imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.