World News

North Korea’s secret Christians

Christians are particularly vulnerable for targeting because they are viewed as having ties with Western countries, and thus posing a threat of foreign infiltration. Even family members often must keep their faith secret from one another for fear of discovery. Fellowship with other believers in group worship poses too great a risk.


Several years ago, on two different occasions, I had the opportunity to worship at Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea. With about 480,000 members, it is the considered to be the largest Christian church in the world. Many travelers from other nations come to worship there and translation equipment is available in a variety of languages. 

As a thriving modern nation with fundamental freedoms enjoyed by its citizens, South Korea provides a sharp contrast to its sister country, North Korea. South Koreans with whom I spoke expressed profound concern for their loved ones living in North Korea under Chairman Kim Jong-un’s harsh communist regime.

They shared how communication with family members is severely restricted and closely monitored. They long for the day when Korea is once again united as a country where religious freedom flourishes.

In its 2020 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) outlined the situation in greater depth: “There are no formally registered, independent houses of worship in North Korea. The government has established several state-sponsored religious organizations and permits five churches to operate in Pyongyang. However, human rights groups and defectors from the country allege that these institutions exist merely to provide the illusion of religious freedom.’’

Being found with mere pages of a Bible could result in immediate death or imprisonment in one of the terrible prison or labor camps where slave labor, torture, deprivation, and death are commonplace. Despite these realities, it is estimated that there are 200,000 to 400,000 “secret” Christians in North Korea.

Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment, including arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution. The possession and distribution of religious texts remains a criminal offense under North Korean law, so proselytization is impossible. 

Continue to Linda Burkle’s article here.

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