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News / Thoughts

North Korea: What will Christmas be like?

December 7, 2020

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.