Young Sik* is a secret North Korean Christian. When he was young, he was sent to a remote village by the government. He was all alone, with no family, friends or community. Years later, Young Sik is still there, and now sees that it was God, not the government, who led him to live in exactly the right place.
When Young Sik first arrived in the village, life was harsh. Searching for something to eat could take hours. Then there was the regular work he was forced to do by the local authorities. Every day was the same as the day before. Boring. Depressing. Dreadful.
One day, when he thought he was all by himself whilst working out in the fields, he whispered, “Oh sweet Jesus, how long would I need to live like this?”
But he wasn’t by himself. An older man named Byung-Chul overheard him. Amazingly, Byung-Chul was also a secret believer who was already taking care of several families. Had he heard correctly? Did that young man just pray by himself?
Byung-Chul knew he couldn’t openly speak about his faith, if anyone overheard, they could both be arrested. Instead he gently approached Young-Sik, took his hand and drew the shape of a cross. But Young-Sik didn’t recognise what the man was doing – he quickly left.
The next day, Young-sik went out again to the same field looking for food. Byung-chul walked by the same place, and deliberately hummed a melody from a hymn. “At first, I was so terrified!” Young-Sik says. “I looked around the field to make sure no one was there. I could identify the song and it was a hymn that I learned years ago. I looked in the face of Byung-chul, and his face was so hopeful, and I could work out that he was humming the melody on purpose, for me to get his sign.”
The two had to be careful. They made sure no one was there and whispered some details of their backgrounds. “The joy I experienced was amazing,” Young-Sik says. “It was such a spiritual moment… I had found a spiritual companion in this hellish place. Now there was hope.”
Young-sik was invited to the next underground church meeting. “It was such a wonderful experience which proved how faithful Jesus is. The sigh of depression was gone now and hopeful prayers were on my lips.”
Byung-Chul served the Lord for decades in this remote village. He was a spiritual leader to the secret believers and also helped other villagers with his medical skills – for free. That in it self raised a lot of suspicion in the area. The local police investigated Byung-Chul several times, but did not discover his faith. But the underground church grew thanks to his evangelistic work.
“One day, a high official visited Byung-chul’s home,” Young-Sik says. “He asked him for his medical advice on the illness of someone of a higher position. Byung-chul thought this was one special opportunity from God. He prayed in his mind, went with the guard, and carefully treated the person. When he was all cured, he offered Byung-chul a chance to move to an inner city and have his identity level raised.”
He had the opportunity to leave this horrible place and live a better life. Did he not deserve it? Young-Sik: “He was very convinced of his own calling. He would have never left the village and the fellow believers he took care of.”
Instead, Byung-chul passed the favor on to one of the street children whom Young-sik was taking care of. A few weeks later, the child was sent to a big city for a much better education and a better life.
Not too long ago, Byung-Chul passed away peacefully. Before his death, he trained Young-Sik to take on the role as leader of the secret believers in this tiny village. Young-Sik: “When he blessed me as the new leader, that was another joyful and spiritually significant moment. But it’s not just the role I’ve been given. It’s also my calling. I know that I will serve the Lord until my death in this village. This is where God placed me, not the government. As Byung-Chul always said, ‘If I live here, I’ll live here. If I die, I will die here.’”
Thanks to God’s amazing grace, Young-Sik wasn’t sent to a godforsaken place. Instead, there was a secret churching waiting to be served by him. Open Doors supports Christians like Young-Sik. For his safety, we cannot explain how we support Young-Sik, but your faithful prayers and gifts help him and the other secret believers survive in the most difficult circumstances.
As one of our field team members says, “Christian life in North Korea is beyond anyone’s imagination, but we all pray that God is faithful and that He protects his children in any circumstances.”
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