What’s the darkest place in the world you can think of? Perhaps you might think of North Korea, a country famous for basically being an enormous prison, where their every move is monitored, where people can be thrown into Nazi style concentration camps for what would seem to us like the most minor offence. A nation that expects its people to revere and worship the nation’s leaders as gods and where daring to believe in a higher authority than the Great Leader would lead to arrest, torture and in many cases execution.
Do you think God could still be at work even there?
Esther became a Christian whilst in one of North Korea’s notorious prison camps, but what she hadn’t realised was that her grandfather was also a secret believer and had been praying for her for all these years.
When she was put in prison for smuggling she met a Christian who called herself ‘God’s Princess’ and shared all that she knew about Jesus with Esther and all the others in the prison.
Esther said to her “Okay, I want to be a princess too.”
“Alright,” she said. “Just pray like me.” I played along. So she went: “Thank you, God, for everything. Do what You wish. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
That was the strangest thing I had ever heard. “Why should I give thanks for this prison?” I asked her.
“Just do it,” she said. “Thank him repeatedly.”
Myoung Hee remembers her uncle being executed for following Jesus when she was a child. Unlike many North Korean children, she grew up in a Christian family and was let in on the secret faith that her family shared.
However, the government’s message was overwhelmingly clear – any other belief system is a threat to the state and will not be tolerated. It dawned on her that it was faith in Jesus that was responsible for her uncle’s death, it was faith in Jesus that could also lead to the same fate for her Christian family – she decided that she did not want to have anything to do with this dangerous faith that only seemed to lead to bloodshed.
Years later she escaped North Korea and ended up in China where she was sold into marriage to a farmer. She noticed her husband’s mother would quietly leave the house in the middle of the night, one day she followed her and found out that she was going to Church. Myoung Hee became a Christian and felt compelled to go home and share the news with her family, so she crossed the border back into North Korea. However she was immediately arrested and thrown into prison. While in prison she would repeat Psalm 62:6-7.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God
Yena grew up in a high class North Korean family, she was privileged enough to be able to learn the piano. She loved the Great Leader and the paradise she knew as North Korea, but when her mother handed her a booklet of sheet music, the notes sounded so different to the marching music she was used to. She asked her mother what the song was, it sounded so alien to what she knew. Her mother told her it was called ‘Silent Night’.
When the police came to search her house, Yana didn’t understand why her mother threw her favourite song book in the fire or why they suddenly had to escape to China.
Esther, Myoung Hee and Yana took a huge risk following Jesus.
When a believer is discovered in North Korea, often their entire families are imprisoned in hard labour camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation.
Despite this, we can be sure that God is still at work. Though North Korea is still a very dark place, many are still choosing to follow Jesus. For the last 15 years North Korea has been the worst place in the world to be a Christian, but the Church is not just surviving but growing and flourishing.
This post is part of our series encouraging us to stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, curated by Open Doors UK.