North Korea: Can the Church grow in a hard place?

More than one year on from the death of the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-Il, North Korea continues to be the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian.

Kim Jong-Un has been in power for almost a year, but there are few signs of genuine reform. Most North Koreans are chronically malnourished, unemployed and living miles below the poverty line. The police have informants everywhere and more than 1 per cent of the population lives in Nazi-like labour camps.

And for Christians the suppression is still severe.

All religious activity is seen as a revolt against the cult of the Kim dynasty. Owning a Bible could get you killed or sent to a prison camp. Between 50,000 to 70,000 believers are languishing in North Korean prison camps.

Today, Juche is no longer just an ideology, but a full-fledged religion that worships Kim II Sung  as god, and his son, Kim Jong II as the son of god. Whether or not Kim Jong Un is now worshipped as the grandson of god remains to be seen.

In 2005, David Hawke, the respected human rights investigator, interviewed 40 North Korean escapees about religion in North Korea. Here are some of their responses about North Korea’s religion:

“Juche is the only religion North Korean people can have.”

“We learned that there were two lives: one is the physical life and the other is the political life. We were taught that political life was forever along with the leaders and the Party. Therefore, I believed that my political life was more important than my physical life.”

“According to party covenant, Article 1, section 1, all North Koreans are required to worship Kim Il Sung with all our heart and might, even after his death. We have to venerate the pictures and status of Kim Il Sung.”

“We must hang [Kim Il Sung’s] pictures. The pictures indicate that Kim Il Sung is god, as we hang the pictures for the purpose of reminding ourselves that we depend on him.”

“Hanging portraits of Kim’s family is compulsory for every household. The portraits must be hung on the best wall of every home, and nothing else can be hung under the portraits. Families with high loyalty to the Party bow down under the portraits even when nobody is watching.”

“Religious freedom is not allowed in North Korea because it will ruin the deification of Kim Il Sung.”

“Having faith in God is an act of espionage. Only Kim Il Sung is a god in North Korea.”

“Juche itself is a religion, therefore they worry that people may forsake Juche for another religion.”

But despite the risks, the church is growing: there are an estimated 400,000 believers.

“North Korean Christians believe God will bring about changes in their circumstances as long as people keep praying,” says an Open Doors contact. “It is a tremendous encouragement for them to know they are not alone.”

Source: and

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