Food shortages are devastating North Korea. As secret believers reach out to their neighbours – helped by your support – the government has launched a mobilisation campaign that many North Koreans are refusing to join.
Secret believers in North Korea are selflessly reaching out to their neighbours as the country experiences devastating food shortages. The crisis is so severe that the authorities have begun a mobilisation campaign to get people farming – but many are avoiding participation, because food isn’t provided.
As the country nears the end of its planting season (its chief food source, rice, is planted in late spring and early summer), reports are leaking out about the severity of their food situation. The winter cold may be over, but the country is now facing a food shortage as supplies have been exhausted.
“Secret believers are practising God’s love”
For Christians in the country, the devastating crisis adds to the dangers they already face as secret believers. The country is number one on the World Watch List, making it the hardest place in the world to be a follower of Jesus. If discovered, believers risk arrest, imprisonment and even immediate execution.
Open Doors supports North Korean Christians through secret networks in China, including the provision of food aid through safe houses for those able to cross the border. These can help a little fewer than 100 people at a time, but thanks to your support, fieldworkers are able to help people as they come and go – including those who return to North Korea where they continue to live as salt and light for Jesus.
“There are inspiring stories told to us that [North Korean] believers are helping their neighbours — sharing food, medicine and other resources they own, even though the food is not enough for even themselves,” says Brother Simon*, Open Doors coordinator for North Korea ministry.
“Secret believers are practising God’s love behind the scenes and thanking us for the help and prayer. All the glory to God who is feeding His children in this terrible time of starvation and poverty.”
North Koreans refuse government orders
In an attempt to restock food supplies, North Korea has launched a ‘rural mobilisation campaign’ that involves soldiers and non-farming civilians being ‘asked’ to do agricultural work. In reality, these campaigns are demands and refusal is not allowed under the North Korean regime.
“All the glory to God who is feeding His children in this terrible time of starvation and poverty”BROTHER SIMON
And yet, more and more people are dodging participation in the campaign. The agricultural work is usually very difficult, involving long hours of hard labour, often on an empty stomach. Workers must provide their own meals, and simply can’t. Farms are experiencing a labour shortage, and many people have tried to avoid the work despite the authorities setting up checkpoints to catch people avoiding it.
However, many North Koreans take the risk. They are too hungry and don’t receive rations through either the farms or their own neighbourhood units. Every North Korean citizen is placed in a neighbourhood unit, which is responsible for monitoring its members, disseminating propaganda and distributing food coupons.
Starvation and skyrocketing inflation
A new report from the BBC highlights how dire the current situation is in North Korea. It features a woman in Pyongyang who checked in on her neighbours. “We knocked on their door to give them water, but nobody answered,” she said. Her neighbours had starved to death at home.
The same report notes that the borders have remained closed since 2020, due to Covid-19 restrictions. This has led to tightening restrictions and more border surveillance for people trying to cross to China, where they can hope to gain access to lifesaving food and other aid.
In the meantime, food prices have skyrocketed and these border restrictions are hampering the black market. A kilogram of food can cost more than 5,000 North Korean won, which is the equivalent of about £5. A kilo of corn costs around £2. Given that the average salary for a North Korean is only 5,000-10,000 won per month, such meagre rations are making it incredibly difficult for many North Koreans to survive.
The North Korean government has announced that it is importing more rice from other countries, but many people do not benefit from this.
“According to up-to-date news from North Korean believers, the imported food was distributed primarily to the high-ranking government officials, then to the soldiers,” says Brother Simon. “Only a very small amount was released in the market for the ordinary people. This is why hunger is continuous throughout the country.”
Thank you for your continued prayers and support for North Korea and our brothers and sisters living in the country. This continues to be urgently needed. “Underground church believers are requesting lots of prayer, that they can endure this difficult time,” says Brother Simon. “Please pray for them and our ministry.”
*Name changed for security reasons
North Korea is the hardest place in the world to be a Christian. Being discovered to own a Bible could lead to execution or a life-sentence in a brutal prison camp. Your whole extended family might be punished alongside you. At the head of this horrifying regime is Kim Jong-un, a dictator known for his severe persecution of enormous numbers of people, including turning on those who have once been close to him.
North Korea is back in the news at the moment, with investigations into the increasing desperation faced in the country. Many believe that there could be a return of the North Korean famine of the 1990s, which killed around three million people. This is the context in which believers maintain their secret faith, knowing that discovery could make life even harder.
“North Korea truly is the place where faith costs the most.”BROTHER SIMON
“God watches over the North Korean church,” says Brother Simon*, coordinator for Open Doors’ ministry to North Koreans. “But we should never forget the high price the Christians pay. North Korea truly is the place where faith costs the most.”
Many Open Doors supporters pray every day for the estimated 400,000 courageous Christians who continue following Jesus in the face of these extraordinary risks. But have you prayed for Kim Jong-un today?
Brother Andrew’s challenge
The question is similar to one that Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, used to ask people. He was known for arranging meetings with people the world regards as terrorists and enemies. Just because someone violently attacked the people of God or led violent campaigns didn’t mean Brother Andrew didn’t want to share the gospel with him – in fact, it made him want to share the love of Jesus even more.
From guerrillas in Latin America to brutal militia leaders in Africa to the heads of terrorist organisations in the Middle East and the Gulf, Andrew insisted on meeting with them. He would tell them about Jesus, give them a Bible and pray for them. As he was fond of saying: “Better a Bible than a bomb.”
The one person he really wanted to meet, but was never able to, was Osama bin Laden, the notorious leader of Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda. However, Andrew prayed for him every day – and challenged others to do the same with a simple question: “Have you prayed today for Osama Bin Laden?” Of course, he is only echoing Jesus’s instruction: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Why do North Korean authorities hate Christianity?
Kim Jong-un is the third ruler of North Korea who has come from the Kim dynasty. His father Kim Jong-il, led North Korea from 1994 to 2011. And Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, founded the modern North Korea in 1948 – and built a cult of personality around the Kim family during his nearly 60-year rule.
Perhaps surprisingly, given North Korea’s decades-long persecution of all religions, the Korean peninsula hasn’t always been known for brutality toward Christians. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Christianity flourished, and in the first half of the 20th century, it was even called the ‘Jerusalem of the East’.
After World War II, Korea was split into two: the north was occupied by the Soviet Union, and the south was occupied by the Western Allies. Eventually, this led to the creation of the two-nation peninsula that continues: a communist North, ruled by the Kim family, and a democratic South that is allied with much of the West.
When Kim Il-sung took control of North Korea in 1948, he came with a surprising background. His mother was a Presbyterian deaconess and Kim Il-sung went to a Christian school. Yet, when Kim began to rule, he immediately began to brutally persecute Christians, as well as any other religion. Putting a deity above the Kim family was, and is, forbidden. Many North Korean priests were executed, and there was a mass exodus of Christians to South Korea.
Ever since, the persecution of Christians has been brutal. The two-pronged goal has remained the same: to stamp out any religious movement that might threaten the rule of the Kim family, and to remove the Christian presence in North Korea. With the exception of 2022, North Korea has been number one on the Open Doors World Watch List for two decades – and the level of persecution is only increasing. In the World Watch List 2023, North Korea’s persecution score is the highest that any country has ever received.
How to pray for Kim Jong-un
It’s hard to pray for those who persecute the body of Christ. But that is Jesus’s command, and North Korean Christians faithfully follow it. And it’s hard to even know how to pray.
Open Doors experts in the region, who work with North Koreans through secret networks in China, have spent much time prayerfully considering the question. They have sent six ways that we can all pray for King Jong-un today.
- Pray for the heart, mind and soul of Kim Jong-un. It is rare for the most severe persecutors to become believers, but it happens. Pray that Jong-un will finally see the truth
- Pray for Kim’s family. Pray for his wife, his three children, and his brother and sisters. Pray they will turn from their ways and rely on God for their salvation. Also pray for their protection. Pray against the indoctrination of Kim’s children. Pray that God will protect their minds, hearts and souls
- Pray that North Korea will soon abandon its evil policies. Pray for protection of the Christians and other citizens of North Korea
- Pray that North Korea’s elite will be saved and/or that they have to step down from their positions
- Pray for the prayer movement inside and outside of North Korea. Pray that God’s Spirit will motivate and give strength to North Korean Christians, so that they can pray for their government and their country. Pray for healing
- Pray that God will inspire millions of Jesus followers around the world to pray for Kim Jong-un, his family and his regime.
Brother Andrew said, “Our prayers can go where we cannot… there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.” If we as Christians truly believe this, then what choice do we have than to fall to our knees, praying for Kim Jong-un and for the country of North Korea?
Will you join the North Korean church in this radical act?
*Name changed for security reasons
Five members of a family in North Korea have said ‘All for Jesus, even in death’ after the authorities arrested them for holding an underground church service at a farm. Please pray for them.
Your prayers are needed for five members of a family in North Korea who were arrested as they gathered at a farmhouse for prayer and Bible study.
The incident happened early on Sunday 30 April at a farm in Tongam village, South Pyongan Province. Police raided the meeting, arrested the believers and sent them to one of the country’s notorious prison camps. They also confiscated Christian literature found in their possession. The group have been charged with promoting an underground prayer service. It is common for Christians facing this charge to be held in prison or a labour camp indefinitely.
The group had reportedly been meeting on a weekly basis, and their arrest followed a tip-off by an informant.
“The believers refused to tell where they got their Bibles and said, ‘All for Jesus, even in death’”SOURCE TO RFA
It is not clear where the five are being held, but they are said to have refused to renounce their faith. “A staff member of the judicial agency told us that the [believers] refused to tell where they got their Bibles and said, ‘All for Jesus, even in death’,” a source told Radio Free Asia.
The village of Tomgam has a history of Christianity, once housing a large church. It’s a reminder of how the country at one time held a strong Christian presence. The parents of Kim Il-sung, the ‘eternal president’ of North Korea, are even said to have been devout Christians.
But today, the risks that come with following Jesus in North Korea are enormous. This has been reinforced in a report recently released by the US State Department, which highlights how Christians are particularly targeted for awful treatment by the country’s authoritarian regime. It referenced several harrowing cases, such as the imprisonment of an entire family, including a two-year-old, after the couple were discovered with a Bible.
It’s unimaginable what could these five brave believers could now face following their arrest. Please pray for them, and the many other believers who are experiencing appalling suffering under the regime.
Source: Asia News
A new report by the US Department of State has highlighted several harrowing cases of Christian persecution in North Korea. It comes as speculation mounts over the regime’s intentions and leadership following recent developments in the country. Please note that you might find some of the content in this article distressing.
An entire family, including a two-year old toddler, were sentenced to life imprisonment in North Korea after the parents were caught with a Bible.
The incident is not very recent, but has now come to light as one of many harrowing cases highlighted in a 2022 report by the US State Department on religious freedom in North Korea. It said that the authoritarian government had continued to ‘execute, torture, arrest and physically abuse people for their religious activities’.
“I pray in my tears for my beautiful home country”TIMOTHY CHO
“I pray in my tears for my beautiful home country,” says Timothy Cho*, a North Korean who escaped from the country years ago. “It still makes me feel very sad and terrible. How will history remember us – the children, the families?”
Whilst Christians aren’t the only group to suffer, one released prisoner said that they were singled out for particularly appalling treatment. To many of you who are familiar with the plight of our North Korean family, the report’s shocking findings come as little surprise.
In another reported case, a Christian bravely continued to pray, even as he was beaten senselessly by guards, whilst a Christian woman committed suicide after the authorities placed her in solitary confinement and deprived her of sleep. Another believer died after he was denied food. And in a reflection of the dangers facing Christians from within their own families, one believer was arrested after their partner reported them to the authorities for owning a cross and a Bible.
Reinforced wall to reassert control
The report demonstrates the grip the North Korean authorities has on its people. However, recent developments suggest this hold is perhaps more fragile than it’s ever been.
Satellite footage has been released by Reuters which shows that extensive reinforcements are being made to its borders with Russia and China, featuring watchtowers, concrete walls, double fencing and barbed wire.
For many years, the borders have been used to smuggle goods that have led to North Koreans being influenced by the wider world, including different languages from dramas as well as fashions and hairstyles. These smuggling routes have also enabled the distribution of Christian materials to the underground church.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the North Korean regime and the reinforced fence – together with the anti-reactionary legislation – looks to be part of a concerted plan to reassert their authority. “They want to regain control of society from what has been has allowed over the past 20 years,” explains Timothy Cho.
The fence will choke the black market, which many North Koreans rely on, particularly the rich who can afford the goods’ rising prices. It will also impact on the donju – the ‘money-lords’ or ‘money-masters’ – many of whom have direct links to the regime. A tightened border is part of Kim Jong-un’s plan to regain control not only of the general population but the elite. But it could backfire on him, making his hold on power even more fragile.
Kim’s closed ‘digital state’
This drive for control is seen in another aspect of daily life – the digital sphere. Around three million North Koreans own smartphones developed by state brands, but coverage is limited (no internet or international coverage) and tightly followed.
“The country has around 8,000 highly sophisticated and professional hackers,” says Timothy Cho. “They would not allow any messages to go freely, because they are concerned that any kind of communication platform could mobilise a revolt against the regime.” The phones even have a feature that automatically captures users’ activity with continual random screenshots of messages. Users cannot delete this feature.
“We have seen an increase in underground churches inside North Korea”TIMOTHY CHO
However, older phones – or ‘Chinese phones’, which are often used to help North Koreans escape the country – remain in circulation, which can be difficult for even current technology to identify. It shows how, despite these recent clampdowns, smuggling networks will continue to operate.
“I know North Korea has a border fence of more than 400km, but this is sometimes circumvented by smugglers who give bribes to soldiers,” says Timothy Cho. “It still happens and it will continue because people are desperate for money, even the elite and the soldiers. They need money to survive.”
And this is good news for the country’s secret Christians, because it means there is hope that Bibles and other support for believers will continue to make it through to them. “The smuggling route has introduced large numbers of Christian materials,” confirms Timothy Cho. “We have seen an increase in underground churches inside North Korea.”
Kim’s ten-year-old daughter and speculation over succession
These developments come as speculation mounts over the leadership of Kim Jong-un. His ten-year-old daughter, Kim Ju-ae, is appearing at more events alongside him, including a military parade. It suggests that he could be preparing her for leadership, as opposed to his sister, Kim Yo-jong, who had previously been more prominent.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un often disappears from the public eye before returning, with rumours circulating that this is due to poor health. “If anything happens to the Kim family, even if Kim Jong-un died today, they would not reveal it to the public straight away,” says Timothy Cho.
Ultimately, the country and its leadership remain shrouded in uncertainty, and it’s unclear what recent developments mean for the country. But what is certain is that our North Korean brothers and sisters continue to follow Jesus amidst extreme persecution, where even owning a Bible has unimaginable consequences. Your prayers and support remain crucial to their survival.
*Name changed for security reasons
When Sister Dreamer* made the treacherous journey from North Korea to China in search of a better life, little did she know that she’d encounter Jesus. Here she shares her extraordinary story…
Born and raised in North Korea, I revered the supreme leaders. While at primary school, I discovered that I had an aptitude for sports. I thought that my life’s calling was to be a highly decorated athlete and bring pride and joy to the supreme leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
I studied diligently, finished university and worked for some time before going back to university for further study. Although my dream of being an athlete was behind me, I had another dream: to marry a wealthy and powerful man from the Party or from the army and live a comfortable life. Little did I know that my life was about to be turned upside down.
During that time, Kim Il-sung, the supreme leader whose reign we thought would be eternal, suddenly died, plunging the country into economic collapse. Millions of North Koreans were starving to death. Hearing about the people who were crossing the border to China in hope of a better life, my mother and I hatched our own plan to escape.
Encountering Jesus in China
On one pitch dark night, leaving my siblings and other family members behind, my mother and I began our escape with the help of a broker. While crossing a river to get to China, my mother never made it out of the water to the other side. Tragically, she did not live to see the happy ending we were looking for.
“Little by little, my heart was opened to the gospel”SISTER DREAMER
I managed to find my uncle and aunt who were living in China. Whilst living there, I met a South Korean woman working for a Christian organisation who invited me to a programme where I had the opportunity to learn about Bible and get pocket money. She was very nice to me, so I happily obliged. Little by little, my heart was opened to the gospel and, before long, I was praying and attending church services.
But one of my cousins was against me staying with my uncle and aunt. The conflict intensified, until my cousin reported on me – not as an illegal immigrant but as a secret agent from North Korea. Government agents were quick to come looking for me, but by the grace of God, I was able to hide from these agents and escape to another location.
Dreaming like Joseph
I was on the run from place to place, but along the way I met wonderful people who helped me – especially a Christian couple in China. “I will definitely go back, set their house on fire and kill everyone,” I said to the husband as I told him about my cousin. He listened before sharing the story of Joseph, whose brothers sold him as a slave, yet he was able to forgive them.
I had many difficulties in China, including being diagnosed with tuberculosis. I felt resentful towards God: “Why didn’t you just kill me back in North Korea? After all this suffering, is this how it ends?”
For a long time, I couldn’t go to work or visit anybody, but God used this time to transform me and help me grow closer to Him. I also kept thinking to myself, “If God called me like Joseph to save my own people, I should not stop here.” It was then that I felt the desire to go to South Korea and study theology.
Emerging stronger from the wilderness
I was jumping with joy when, after more than a year of waiting, I arrived in South Korea. To my surprise, doctors there told me that I was fit as a fiddle. I praised God for restoring my health.
Just like how God used 40 years in the wilderness to train Moses, I was also called for such a journey. My athletic ability and my education were part of my ego. But having to be on the run, unable speak the language and barely able to support myself, I always had to ask for help. Ten years of such ‘wilderness’ brought me to the lowest point. Looking back, I can see that God has been using my journey to break me, teach me humility, and mould me into a person that can be used by Him.
Until now, coming to South Korea was the dream. But gradually, God was putting a vision in my mind – to serve my fellow North Korean brothers and sisters.
Dependence and devotion
In South Korea, I was able to study theology and participate in ministries serving my people from North Korea. I could not have been happier to share the message of Jesus with my brothers and sisters. I even led various prayer meetings with them. I was continually meeting new people and developing friendships. I was not just a minister to them – I was one of them.
“I would like to see His kingdom come and His will be done in North Korea”SISTER DREAMER
Ever since I encountered Jesus in China, God has been faithful to me. He was there when I lost my mother and stayed at my uncle’s house. He was there when I escaped to the home of the Chinese couple. He was there when I was fighting fever and cough all alone in a small damp basement. He was also there with me in my time of waiting at the embassy.
I had acknowledged the existence of God and had also been praying for some time, but it was during these times of uncertainty and helplessness that I truly experienced Him in the most tangible ways. All these experiences helped me serve my people even during challenging times, as I am confident that He is always with me.
I thank God for visiting me and calling me to participate in His mission. God spoke to me through dreams and helped me be a dreamer for His kingdom. I will forever praise Him and give myself to Him as a tool for His mission. One day, when the time comes, I will go back to my home country and devote myself to the Christians and the church there. Above all, I would like to see His kingdom come and His will be done in North Korea.
*Name changed for security reasons
Brother Simon has been Open Doors’ coordinator for North Korea ministry for almost 30 years. We cannot reveal his real name because of the huge risks involved in his work – in fact, secret agents have even attempted to capture him. We sat down with Brother Simon to discuss developments in the country that’s once again number one on the World Watch List.
Due to the pandemic, North Korea shut its borders, making it even harder to get information from the country. What’s the situation been in the country between 2020 and now?
It’s been very difficult for the people. One major change was that, in early 2020, North Korea announced a new law, called the ‘DPRK Law on rejecting reactionary ideology and culture’. This basically punishes the possession and use of foreign propaganda and materials that are anti-North Korean culture. Think of South Korean pop music and dramas.
But this was forbidden already, wasn’t it?
Yes, but before the law was published, the punishment was usually light. People could even escape punishment if they bribed officials. Now punishment is much harsher.
What’s the impact of this law on Christians?
Reading and possessing the Bible have been illegal for years, and punishment is very heavy. At the very least you’ll be tortured in prison for months. Then you’ll be sent to a re-education camp or camp for political prisoners. It’s possible to survive a re-education camp and be released after several years. Prisoners are never released from a political prison camp. Most Christians end up in the political camps.
What’s interesting about the law is that it makes explicit mention of the Bible. It’s called an illegal book, and possessing it is punishable with ten years correctional labour and even death if you import a lot of material. This illustrates Kim Jong-un’s aversion against Christians. The North Korean state sees them as a huge threat.
Why are Christians considered to be dangerous?
They are patriots who love their country. But they don’t see Kim Jong-un as a god. Anyone who doesn’t is a traitor in the eyes of the state. I cannot share details, but we have learned that a high number of Christians have been killed for the faith.
Let’s return to the pandemic years. What was the impact of the pandemic on the citizens, including the Christians?
North Korea is always described as a closed country. In reality, there is a lot of traffic between North Korea and China/Russia. Goods are important and exported – sometimes legally, sometimes illegally. Shortly after the coronavirus began to spread, North Korea was forced to close all borders and stop the trade with other countries. This resulted in less available food and other daily necessities. Prices on the markets skyrocketed and it became more and more difficult for the ordinary people to survive.
What did they do to stop the coronavirus from spreading? Publicly they never admitted to have any cases until early 2022.
They knew the coronavirus was in their country, but the government didn’t have any Covid-19 tests. Everybody with symptoms was picked up and brought to an isolation centre. These are terrible places. First of all, you may end up there even if you don’t have Covid-19. Perhaps you’re only coughing or sneezing, but you’re still ‘incarcerated’ with people who actually may carry the virus. Second, there’s no medical care. Your family will have to bring you what you need. Needless to say that many people died in these isolation centres. The number must run in the thousands.
What about lockdowns?
There have been many lockdown periods. The question is if these were used just to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
What could be another reason for them?
Kim Jong-un seems to be in power in North Korea. However, it’s clear that he needs a lot of force to keep the people under control. The dissatisfaction with his regime is high. The lockdowns were an easy tool to restrict people’s movement and he could use the Covid-19 threat as an excuse. Case in point is that in most areas there are no more lockdowns, but they still are imposed sometimes near the Chinese border. This is to discourage people from trying to smuggle [items] or to illegally visit China.
Since the Second World War, North Korea has fiercely persecuted Christians. This intensified after the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. How has the church survived?
It’s by God’s grace that the church has survived. The Christians also take a lot of measures to protect themselves. It’s rare that people meet with other Christians, except if it’s a family gathering. Even then, usually the children are sent outside to keep watch. They talk and sing softly. Bibles are usually hidden. In recent years, Christians also rely more on digital materials to give themselves spiritual food. If you read a book and you get close enough, you can see what someone’s reading. But if they see you with headphones, it’s impossible to tell what you’re listening to.
“If they [children] quote a Bible verse or story at school, or hum a Christian song, the whole family could be in trouble”BROTHER SIMON
In the past, you’ve also said that Christian parents often don’t tell their children about their faith.
Indeed. It’s highly dangerous. If they quote a Bible verse or story at school, or hum a Christian song, the whole family could be in trouble. That’s why the parents usually wait until the children are old enough.
Is there anything the parents can do before they are old enough to keep the family secret?
They can teach their children Christian values by sharing stories with them that don’t mention the Bible, Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit or any Christian terms. Or they talk about creation but, again, without mentioning God. Once the kids are old enough, the parents can teach them it was actually God who created the heavens and the earth. Then they can talk about how God came down, became human and saved us.
If it’s so dangerous to talk about faith, even to your children, how do people come to faith in North Korea?
God does a lot of signs and wonders in North Korea. Especially healings, because so many people suffer from malnutrition and diseases. The water supply in North Korea is usually filthy. Most people cannot afford to buy bottled water. A lot of people, and certainly children, fall seriously ill. Christians may help the sick people and pray for them. A lot are healed and, through their healing, experience the supernatural love of God. That means they are usually ready to hear the gospel. The Christians expose them to the good news and their faith grows gradually from that moment onwards. This isn’t just with adults; it happens with older children, too.
What do you expect of 2023?
We pray that the borders will open, and that more North Korean people can come to China, so that we can reach them through our networks. They are in dire need of food, medicines, clothes and spiritual materials.
How else are you going to help North Korean Christians?
We operate safe houses in China. In 2022, we were able to help more than a thousand people through them. We’ve also supported and trained about a hundred North Korean women who have forcibly been married to Chinese men. Some of them will be female leaders in the future North Korean church. Our radio ministry continues to grow. We have two programmes specifically for Christian parents to educate them how they can give their children Christian teachings without mentioning Christian terms. Our radio crew also produces programmes with sermons, Bible seminary materials and a programme where North Korean refugees discuss various topics.
How can we pray for your ministry?
Let’s start with thanking the Lord for His provision and blessings. It’s a miracle that we could support North Korean Christians last year. Then, please pray that God will open doors for us to stay connected with the North Korean underground church and that we can help them. Pray for protection of our team and contacts. Also ask the Lord that He will make seeing eyes blind. In other words, that Christians won’t be caught by the authorities. Pray also that the country will experience more freedom and prosperity in 2023, so that life will be less hard for the citizens.
Sister R and J (names changed) are secret Open Doors fieldworkers – supporting North Korean refugee women in China. In this interview, they explain the transformations they’ve seen – and how you’re helping.
Why do North Korean women become refugees?
Sister R: When the women flee from the country, it’s normally because of their financial situation. During the pandemic, the government had to close the borders and block people from travelling in order to prevent the virus spreading. And that caused serious famine inside the country, so it is very difficult now too.
You have to be a government official or very high class to get permission to leave the countries, so many of these women flee illegally, and they automatically become traitors to the government and to the country. If they are caught in a third country, they will be brought back to their home country where they will get a trial and possibly go to prison.
When the women get to China, what problems do they face there?
Sister R: As the women travel illegally, they normally need a broker, and sometimes they are deceived by the brokers. At first the brokers tell the women they will connect them to a safe place where they can find jobs. But many times the women are sold into marriage. Some of them are trafficked into the countryside where they are sold to Han Chinese families to have a baby or to be a wife.
“Every new lady is really precious for us.”SISTER J
Chinese officials never allow them to have official documents. No passport, no ID, so they do not exist in China. Any ladies who are captured by the officials or police have to be deported back to North Korea because they are illegal escapers. Those ladies are hiding around the remote areas, in the mountains and countryside, and our lady fieldworkers go to visit their villages to have a Bible study group.
How does the ministry change women’s lives?
Sister J: They are all brainwashed by the North Korean regime. The first time they come, they are really afraid to hear about the gospel. At the beginning it is really difficult to open their hearts. So we have to pray a lot to prepare ourselves and prepare her to come to the meeting. And God will be the one who opens her heart.
Each time they bring one new lady, we need more and more prayer, because they are really against Christ and against Christianity. Every new lady is really precious for us. When we hear that one visitor or one new person has come to our ministry, that is really precious.
Sister R: As time goes by, the sisters come just to hear the talks from the field workers and to share the Bible verses. Through this they encounter Jesus Christ. They really listen to the Bible verses and sermons and sometimes they get baptised. Some even volunteer to be the leader of the group so they can better understand other sisters and care for them.
What would happen if the ministry was discovered?
Sister R: If the women are caught with any evidence that they have had contact with any Christian people or South Koreans, they will be deported to North Korea and sent to a political prison camp – or even executed. If someone is caught with Christian materials, the government will look for their family and the whole family will be sent to the political prison camp, even though the family are innocent.
“We have to take risks. God loves each of the women so much.”SISTER J
Sometimes workers have to travel long hours and there is the risk that during the travel there could be some threats or mistakes made. If things go very wrong, the fieldworkers have to escape too. And maybe the whole ministry will be shut down.
Sister J: We have to take risks. But even though we know it is not safe, we still have to do it. God loves each of the women so much. We really want to share God’s love to them, and let them know there is an amazing God who helps them and who will be with them all the time. We have to share that even though it’s risky.
We cannot prevent all the risks, but we do everything we can to protect ourselves and the people who come to our meetings. Everything is really hidden and the meetings are secret so they cannot be tracked down or followed by anyone.
But the women are really ready for any risk. They are still coming because they really want to learn more about the Bible and know Christ more.
Sister R: Our fieldworkers would say that it doesn’t matter how much time they spend or how much effort they put in because it’s about spreading the gospel to those women, and these women symbolise the women of North Korea. It’s also about strengthening the church inside North Korea. We cannot go inside the country, but these women will eventually form a church in North Korea.
How do the women inspire your own faith?
Sister J: North Korean refugee ladies never lose their hope. They are so excited to know Jesus Christ, even though they are still suffering and they are still hiding. They are really full of joy in Christ. They give thanks for everything, even the small things they have and the small things we share with them. They give thanks to God and they give thanks to us. And not only us; they also give thanks to all the supporters, though they have never met you and they don’t know your names and faces.
“We need a lot of prayer from supporters all over the world. ”SISTER J
God’s grace is really powerful. They are overflowing with joy and hope. It is only possible because God really walks with them in their lives. We feel God’s presence, and God is really working though our ministry.
We need a lot of prayer from supporters all over the world. It is not just us who are doing this, but all of us together are working for God’s kingdom. That’s why we can do this work. We can keep doing it because of all the supporters, because of your prayers and your support.
How do the prayers and gifts of Open Doors supporters help?
Sister R: The ministry itself is based on the prayers of the brothers and sisters around the world. Because they face so many risks, so they really need your prayers.
There are times when they are travelling when they are caught by the guards and their ID is checked. Those are very dangerous times because the ministry’s location could be revealed. But the guards check the people in front of them and they just pass over the fieldworker and check the people behind them. The fieldworker thinks, “What’s happening? Why don’t they check us?” And then they say “Oh, it’s surely a miracle!” It’s through the prayers of the brothers and sisters around the world they avoid the dangers.
There were many testimonies from the fieldworkers that they experienced something very unusual and something very heavenly because of your prayers. There are times when they are discouraged because things seem so closed down and seem not to be working. But during their prayers they feel, “Surely the brothers and sisters of the world are praying for me, because I have this sudden light of courage.”
“We can do the ministry because you pray for us and you support us.”SISTER J
Sister J: Our ladies ministry is not only done by us. We all are doing it together. We are just going out to share the gospel, but you are the ones who send us there. We are like a team. We need your support a lot. God gives you a heart to support us and pray for us.
We can do the ministry because you pray for us and you support us. God is using your support and God is answering your prayers through our work. So even though you cannot see it with your own eyes, there is so much spiritual fruit from your prayers and support. We are like one team. Without your support and prayers we cannot do anything. So please pray for us!
How can supporters pray for the North Korean women and this ministry?
Sister J: Pray for safety first. Safety for our fieldworkers as they minister and also for the ladies who are coming to our ministry. They are in danger, so they need God’s protection.
Pray for more fieldworkers to work together for our ministry. It is risky work, so not many people want to take the risk. We need more workers to come.
“Pray for the ladies who come to the meetings. ”SISTER R
Also pray for their physical and spiritual support. And for our fieldworkers’ families, because they cannot take care of their families as they have to go out to do ministry. They sacrifice willingly, but still they need some support as well.
Sister R: Pray for the ladies who come to the meetings – that they will choose to come despite possible opposition from their husbands and in-laws. And many of the sisters also have to travel far. So please pray they will not be open to any threat when they travel.
Pray for the health of the ladies because many of them do harsh work, like farming. Sometimes they have to work to support the families they have left in North Korea, so when they come to the meetings they are sacrificing their time instead of choosing to work. But that’s a blessing because they come they listen to the truth and then their spirit lives.
Finally, is there a Bible verse that particularly encourages you and the women you support?
Sister J: Of course there are many! One example is Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Rebecca (name changed) has one of the riskiest jobs imaginable. Through Open Doors’ secret networks in China, she meets with North Korean refugee women. They’ve escaped North Korea in search of a better life – but have ended up being trafficked. Often they are neglected or abused by the families they end up in.
Rebecca is able to bring them pastoral care, a little money and, most importantly, the good news of the gospel. As the weeks go by, she sees God working amazing change in these vulnerable women. Her work comes with incredible risks – but it brings incredible joy. This is her story.
I met some new North Korean sisters today. These women endure such poor lives. Their lives are truly difficult and harsh. They should be welcomed as a new family member but many of them are not. Instead, they are just treated as a means to deliver babies. Without legal identification, they cannot travel freely. They cannot do what they want. They are confined in the situation.
God allows me to find the sisters. When they first hear about the Word of God, they laugh at it, and they respond as if it were nonsense. I know they’re only coming for funds, for the small amount of money I can give. But I’ve seen God do many transformations in the past, and I have faith He will do it again.
It’s very difficult to teach them the message of the Word because in their minds, there are a mixture of ideas that they learned from North Korea which are against the teachings of Jesus. They really want to believe it, but the messages from the Bible were so different from what they had learned so far, so it takes time for them to actually accept the Truth. In North Korea, being found with a Bible would mean a death sentence. I know how dangerous it is – both for them and for me – to share the gospel. Oh, but it’s worth it.
After a month
I need to go to faraway places to meet these sisters. They live far away from where I live, and in a new place that I didn’t know. The journey is difficult and dangerous.
“I need to go to faraway places to meet these sisters. The journey is difficult and dangerous.”
I know God protects me. There have been a lot of times when I needed to travel alone. Those were such insecure moments but, all the time, God prepared the way for me.
Every time I’ve travelled for this work, there was not one accident or incident – this is God’s amazing grace! Even though the journeys from village to village aren’t safe, I am able to continue visiting the sisters for the Bible study meetings. This proves that God protects the ministry.
After two months
I’m getting to know the sisters more. Surely, I feel pity for them, but they are so lovely. They are God’s children, that’s their identity, and just feeling pity for them is not enough. God looks for them, and wants to build them. As they get to listen more and more to the Bible and to explanations about it, they become serious about the message.
At first, the women only talked to me about their own problems. They didn’t listen to others. They were jealous of what the other person had and hated one another. They had a lot of conflicts and fights among them. But as time goes by, the sisters are changing, and they now know how to listen to others, how to comfort others and how to encourage others. I’m seeing that Jesus is really touching their hearts and teaching them how to love.
After three months
Today, I was thinking about the sisters I miss the most. The sister I really miss is, ironically, the sister that I was the most suspicious about. My guess is that she was actually a spy.
“I’m seeing amazing transformation in the North Korean sisters.”
This is just my speculation, but she acted suspiciously and she sometimes lied about her faith. But a moment came and, after that, she wasn’t that distant anymore. She engaged with us in the meetings and helped us with things. And slowly, she began to show who she really was.
But she seemed to have cycles. Sometimes she was distant, sometimes she was close. At times she sounded like she truly believed in Jesus, but at other times she didn’t.
I wonder how she encounters God these days. I miss her a lot.
After six months
I’m seeing amazing transformation in the North Korean sisters. During the worship services within the Bible study group, the sisters begin to sincerely pray for their husbands and in-laws and their redemption. They’ve started to ask for God’s heart when praying for their families. Even the Chinese families notice. Often they say, “You have changed since you’ve been to the church.”\
When I see these transformations, I feel so happy and proud of them. As they get to know more about Jesus, the Word of God surely changes the women in His good ways.
Also, they’ve started to really pray for their own country. They prayed that churches will be built in the land and that North Korea will accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some sisters have contact with underground believers in North Korea, and we’ve been able to help them through secret networks in China. We received their letters and news that they received the funds safely and that they’re worshipping God. It made me feel so happy to hear this news.
After nine months
I’m amazed when I think about how the sisters have changed in the time I’ve known them. At first, all they wanted was to receive. They came to the Bible study meetings to get the funds. They wanted to be supported. But then when they kept listening to the Word of God and learned about God’s love, they started to help other sisters, comforting and encouraging them, loving them. That’s the moment I thought, “Wow, they really have changed.” I thank God for such transformation.
“I pray that the sisters will serve as powerful disciples of God.”
“Surely, God has His own plans for your life,” I say to them. “Please remember this. Please remember this wherever you go, whatever you do. Even when it’s pitch dark and you feel like you are all by yourself, Jesus Christ is holding your hand. Please don’t forget this Truth.”
I pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be abundant among the sisters, so that they will first see God’s glory and shine His glory right where they are – whether they stay in China or go back to North Korea. I pray that they will be able to shine God’s glory to their families, to their neighbours and the people around them. I pray that the sisters will be able to show God’s beautiful character and love right where they are. I pray that the sisters will serve as powerful disciples of God.
Rebecca takes extraordinary risks to meet with North Korean women refugees, showing them the love of Christ. She can only do it if Open Doors supporters like you keep supporting and praying for her. Together, the body of Christ is transforming the lives of courageous North Koreans.
*Names changed for security reason