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News / Thoughts

North Korean camps bigger than Auschwitz

January 27, 2015

Auschwitz, a concentration camp used by the Nazis to exterminate a million Jews and other ‘undesirable’ members of society, was liberated 70 years ago. The camp is now maintained as a World Heritage Site, and thousands visit every year.

Jan*, an Open Doors co-worker who works with our North Korea team, recently visited Auschwitz. As part of his tour, Jan saw the reconstructed toilets in the camp.

“This was a building so dirty the SS officers didn’t want to go inside,” the tour guide told him. “But it was warmer than outside. So the prisoners would prefer to work here and clean it. As the SS did not come here, this was also a place where groups of Jews and groups of Christians would gather to pray.”

Jan thought of Hea-Woo, a 70-year-old Christian lady who survived three years in a North Korean labour camp. “Every day was as if God was pouring out all ten plagues on us simultaneously,” Hea-Woo has said. “That’s how hard it was. But God also comforted me and brought a secret fellowship into existence. Every Sunday we would gather in the toilets and pray.”

Jan says, “I thank God that He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. People worshipped Him in Auschwitz and people serve Him in North Korean camps today.”

Never again

When Auschwitz closed 70 years ago, people said ‘Never again’. But many of the labour camps that can now be found in North Korea are actually bigger than Auschwitz. Hundreds of thousands of people are imprisoned, and an estimated 100,000 Christians are among them. Some will be imprisoned for a few years, some for decades, others until they die. They are forced to work for long hours, clothed in rags, with just a few hundred grams of food each day. They are subject to mental and physical torture and are always at risk of being killed.

Hea-Woo says, “When I was in the camp, there was so much death all around me. When people died, we stripped them of their clothes and had to bring the corpses to the mountains. Others were burned in crematoria and their ashes were scattered over the road. We had to walk that road every day. I thought, ‘One day the other prisoners will walk over me’. We didn’t mean anything to the guards. They beat me so hard I thought I was going to die. When we worked, we were not allowed to rest, because we were criminals. Our only use was to work.”

There was so much death all around me. When people died, we stripped them of their clothes and had to bring the corpses to the mountains. Others were burned in crematoria and their ashes were scattered over the road.

History repeating itself

Sadly, Hea-Woo’s story is ‘normal’ for Christians in North Korea; as you read this, thousands of others are going through similar experiences.

And yet, the church in North Korea continues to grow. Hea-Woo says, “When God told me to evangelise in the camp, I refused at first. But God kept insisting. And in the end, all I had to do was give the people God pointed out to me a message of hope. God had prepared them to accept the gospel. These ladies who converted already knew me. They saw me washing the clothes of the sick and sharing my food with the weak. When we formed a secret church inside the camp we shared everything with each other.”

This didn’t just happen 70 years ago; this happened to Hea-Woo this century. This is happening to others today.

Open Doors has been working to strengthen the church in North Korea for many years, supplying food, medicines and clothes to help them survive, literature to help them grow in their faith, and funding safe houses in China for those who escape.

None of this would be possible without your support and prayers. One North Korean believer has said: “The support and prayers from believers all over the world help us to overcome serious crises and dangerous situation. There are a lot of struggles and obstacles in our daily lives; however, we have Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life. We fight the good fight of our faith and take hold of the eternal life to which we were called. We faithfully pray for believers outside of North Korea as well.”

*All names changed for security reasons

Source: Open Doors

Please pray

  • Ask for comfort and strength for the thousands of Christians imprisoned in labour camps, that they would know God’s presence and love despite their circumstances
  • That the day of liberation for North Korean prisoners would come soon
  • For protection for the thousands of secret believers in North Korea and safety for those who are working to support them.

Help now

£6 will provide a single survival pack for a secret Christian in North Korea. Give that today…

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