A call to action for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
“Each person received one handful of rotten corn [and] there was nothing else to eat.”
“People are obligated to work more than cows or animals.”
“So many died—and there was no hope in the prison. All [inmates] were on the verge of death.”
These sentences might seem as if they’re from a different era—perhaps a survivor recounting the horrors of a Nazi death camp, or a political prisoner describing the conditions in a Soviet-era gulag.
But these quotes are from Hea Woo, a woman living now in South Korea. They are about her experiences in a North Korean labor camp. And for her, one experience was even worse than the physical desperation of her situation—as a Christian, she yearned to pray and worship God, but because of where she was, such worship was forbidden and would have made her condition all the worse.
“Physical labor was hard, but something harder was that we did not have freedom of faith,” she says. “We could not pray freely but I still prayed in [my] heart. When people were asleep, I woke up to pray. It was so pitiful that we did not have freedom of faith; I really yearned for freedom.”
There are thousands of other gripping stories about conditions in North Korea. Some Christians die in labor camps for their faith. Some North Korean women are trafficked when they escape into China. Some North Koreans go to China to find food or money and are threatened with arrest if they return home. And there are Christians who can’t share their faith with their own family members, for fear of arrest and imprisonment.
Your prayers make all the difference and remind Christians living in secret that they are part of the worldwide Body of Christ and have not been forgotten.
These are the stories that don’t get told in the constant news cycle about North Korea and U.S.–North Korea diplomatic talks. Open Doors estimates there are about 300,000 Christians in North Korea, most of whom are forced to live and worship in secret. Of those, there are estimated to be around 50,000 Christians suffering in detention, prison, or labor camps like the one Hea Woo spoke about.
At Open Doors, we think these stories need to be heard. Particularly, we must listen to accounts of Christians like Hea Woo, who can give staggering testimonies of both human rights atrocities and how God is active and at work, even in the darkest circumstances.
In North Korea, Christianity is regarded as “a particularly serious threat” by the government. A recent study by the International Bar Association found that Christians are targeted for brutal abuse in North Korean labor camps. Kim Jong Un has continued to build up a cult of personality, which means faith in Christ is a direct challenge to his rule. Even a recent invitation to a Christian leader to visit North Korea highlights the regime’s extreme persecution of Christians who truly yearn to follow Jesus.
And yet, God is doing amazing things in North Korea. In the midst of devastating persecution, God is strengthening his church. The scope of our work in North Korea focuses on:
- Supplying persecuted believers with emergency relief aid (food, medicines, clothes, etc.).
- Distribution of books and other Christian materials.
- Training through radio broadcasting.
- Providing shelter, aid, training, and training materials to North Korean believers in China.
That’s why we’re asking Christians everywhere to join us in prayer and solidarity for Christians in North Korea on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), which is this Sunday, November 4.
We know that North Korean Christians long to know they are not alone. Because of the restrictive nature of North Korea, it can be hard for them to see how much support they truly have. But we’ve heard countless times from North Korean believers who have left the country that the prayers of God’s people have made a critical difference.
“While I was in prison, I could not understand everything, but I felt that the Christians . . . in different countries were praying for us who were imprisoned,” Hea Woo remembers. “It provided comfort, and it became a source of energy for us. So, I really thank you; even if we cannot meet each other, let us communicate through the spirit in Jesus Christ. Let’s pray together and make good out of it—[and] I hope that our Lord will be glorified. I believe that at God’s appointed time, all the prayers will be answered and there will be freedom of faith in North Korea.”
Prayer changes things, even if we don’t understand how or where. Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew reminds us that our prayers “can go where we cannot . . . there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”
Ways North Korean believers want you pray for them
We asked believers in the region how we could pray with them, and here are some ways they told us to pray:
- Pray with North Korean Christians for their protection, strength, and endurance. They face persecution from state authorities and their non-Christian families, friends and neighbors.
- Pray that North Korean President Kim Jong-un and his regime will come to know the one true God and open his country to the gospel for healing and restoration.
- Pray that God will move on Kim Jong-un to release the estimated 50,000 Christians who are unjustly held in detention centers and prison camps throughout the country.
- Pray that the underground church would grow in boldness and be ready for widespread evangelism efforts when the opportunity arises.
- Pray that Kim Jong-un will allow for the creation of new churches where North Koreans can freely worship.
Join your North Korean Church Family in prayer this Sunday, and every day. Your prayers make all the difference and remind Christians living in secret that they are part of the worldwide Body of Christ and have not been forgotten.
For more information, and downloadable resources for your church or small group or personal prayer group, visit the Open Doors IDOP page.