Recently we spoke to Brother Simon* who works for Open Doors with North Korean believers. Simon has worked with the North Korean underground church for many years. He knows exactly how deadly working with Christians in North Korea is.
Kim Jong-Un’s government has sent hundreds of security officials along the North Korean border with China. The aim – to kidnap, and now kill, missionaries and others helping North Korean refugees.
For North Korea, the murder of Pastor Han Choong Yeol in April was a warning to everyone helping North Korean refugees and in particular Christians. Brother Simon is aware of the risks and lives everyday knowing the danger of this ministry.
Brother Simon, how did you find out about what had happened to Pastor Han?
“I heard from a person who lives near the Chinese-Korean border that his friend was called in by the police. They showed him CCTV footage of four people crossing the river: one lady and three men, one of them very muscular. They carried some sort of box. The lady was later recognized as someone who had been in touch with Pastor Han a year ago. She probably knew Han and made a phone call to him. They agreed to meet in the woods. Pastor Han fell into the trap and was brutally slaughtered to death. The assassins left China before the murder was discovered.”
In recent years, missionaries and church workers have been kidnapped by North Korean secret agents. The risks are real, including for people working with Open Doors. Is this sort of ministry just too dangerous?
“No. We are a risk-taking organisation and we will never abandon the North Korean Church. God has called us to do this work. Besides, the North Korean Christians are far more dedicated than us. In a sense, they are spiritually much stronger than we (are). Yes, it’s true that perhaps some of them – especially young believers – don’t know the Bible that well. Their understanding of the Bible may be limited, but their faith runs deep. There are so many unknown heroes in North Korea and they are able to withstand torture.”
We know what sort of torture you are referring to from people who have escaped North Korea in the past. But how do you know Christians withstand it?
“We hear it from people inside the country. When a person is captured in China and brought to North Korea, it usually doesn’t take long before there’s a wave of arrests. The people this person was connected to, are then taken to prison and tortured as well. But usually they don’t arrest new people. That means the North Korean Christians didn’t talk despite the torture.”
The North Korean church has little or no access to the Bible. It seems that though they lack Biblical knowledge, they remain faithful?
“Yes, but you have to understand that when the Bible speaks about possessing knowledge, it means ‘living knowledge’. In other words, knowledge and action. We often separate Biblical knowledge and daily living. The Bible and the persecuted church cannot afford to separate the two. We still operate safe houses in China where we disciple North Korean Christians. I can’t share with you how many exactly, and I hesitate to say this because I don’t want to boast, but we are successful. Those disciples, when they are arrested, don’t collapse but remain faithful.”
The price for remaining faithful can be high. Entire families have been imprisoned, tortured, and even killed because one family member refused to give up their faith. Open Doors’ workers also have to give up their entire life to work undercover for our ministry. Sharing the gospel with someone knowing that, because of it, he or she may be killed. Simon, do you feel your sacrifice is worth this enormous cost?
“I will tell you a story. There is a family in North Korea. Many years ago, their faith was exposed and ever since they have had to work as slaves – day in, day out. They were completely separated from other Christian communities. Can you imagine how they felt each day? ‘We thought God had forgotten us. How else could he allow us to suffer so much every day? Every day we worked and at night we needed to find our own food to survive. We wanted to give up on God and deny our faith.’ But a miracle happened. The family was released and with the help of local Christians – supported by us – the family is now resettling. They have to learn how to live as humans again. But still they say, ‘Every time we wake up we pinch our arms, wondering if we are dreaming. How can this be true? We have reached paradise early.’ Is our ministry worth the effort? You answer that question.”
The family was also able to convey a message to Brother Simon, “We just found out that God has mobilized Christians outside this country to pray for us and help us financially. We are astonished that God loves us so much that He uses brothers and sisters we don’t know to support us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
No Advance Without Sacrifice
In Simon’s mind, the gospel cannot advance without sacrifice. After all, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
North Korea’s underground Christians are even more than friends, they are our family in Christ. To support our family, we may need to sacrificially lay down our lives through speaking out, prayer and giving.
We urge you to pray for North Korean believers and those ministering to them. Pray their faith and trust in God would grow, and many new believers would be added to their numbers.
*Name changed for security reasons
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