Leader: Kim Jong-Un
How many Christians?: Up to 400,000 (1.5% of the population)
World Watch List Rank: 1
“The North Korean citizens are like slaves. With the light of the Lord, they would be freed.”
Hee-Yol, North Korea Christian
North Korea is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Christians face arrest, torture, imprisonment and death for daring to believe there is a higher authority than the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Many follow Jesus in secret; parents often don’t even tell their children about their faith for fear they will be revealed. Thousands of other Christians are trapped in horrific labour camps and isolated closed villages. But despite the risks, North Koreans are still choosing to follow Christ.
This is the story of a Christian who was sent to a North Korean labour camp and known there only as a number: Prisoner 42. Kept in terrible conditions and interrogated daily, she testifies that all she could do was keep praying.
Matthew* and Peter* are two Open Doors field workers who support North Korean secret Christians. In this rare interview, they talk about the dangers of their ministry and, of course, ask for our continuing prayers for Christians in the most hostile country in the world.
We estimate that around 400,000 Christians in North Korea. However, it’s difficult to get an exact figure, as Christians in North Korea must keep their faith completely secret.
Of those, we estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in terrible labour camps – simply for choosing to follow Jesus. And yet, despite the risks, the church in North Korea is slowly but steadily growing.
North Korean authorities don’t just control every aspect of life of everyone living in North Korea – their reach goes even beyond the borders. Hee-Yol (name changed) escaped North Korea during the Great Famine of the 1990s. While in China, she heard about Jesus and became a Christian – but one day she was forced back to North Korea.
“One day, the Chinese police broke into my workplace. They demanded to see my ID card, and when I couldn’t show them one, I was sent to North Korea,” says Hee-Yol.
Back in North Korea, she was kept in a horrendous prison, with conditions that are almost too unbearable to imagine: “The small prison cell had nine prisoners. We could not lie comfortably. We had to lay down on our side. If the cameras caught us talking to prisoners next to us, the punishment was called pompu, where we put our hands behind us and had to crouch and then stand up a thousand times.
“It was so hard to endure. One whole winter, I had to spend at the detention centre. The room was underground without any sunlight. It was a harsh winter. I needed to endure the temperature well below minus 20 to 30 degrees Celsius, the hunger, and the cold.”
Thankfully, she was released. Most Christians are not.
2021 is the 20th year in a row that North Korea has been the country where Christians face the most extreme persecution. And yet Covid-19 has made it even worse. Though the North Korean authorities claim that the pandemic has had little impact in the country, North Koreans call it the ‘ghost disease’ – because people are so malnourished already that they die very quickly from Covid-19. The pandemic has led to tighter security at the Chinese border, and a stranglehold on the black market, which many used to survive.
Lord God, it is hard for us to imagine life in North Korea for Christians. But thank You that You will never abandon Your children, and that You are with them whatever they suffer. Please help North Korean believers not just to survive but to be joyful, despite everything – prepare a banquet for them in the presence of their enemies. Tear down the strongholds of the Kim family and replace them with prayer and praise. Amen.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in North Korea. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Through its networks in China, Open Doors supplies persecuted North Korean believers with emergency relief aid (food, medicines, clothes, etc.). Shelter, training and training materials are also provided for North Korean believers in China (who often travel back to North Korea).
Click the North Korea tag below for a list of the latest articles and news on North Korea…
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.