Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, but tragically, there are many countries where its adherents are persecuted for their faith. One such place is North Korea.
In fact, North Korea is ranked as the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian – according to the OpenDoors charity, which is a global charity that helps millions of Christians worldwide.
One of the saddest elements of this is that North Korea once had a strong Christian following, before things dramatically changed in the last few decades. We review its history in this article.
From 1910 to 1945, a united Korea was ruled by Japan. This continued until the close of the Second World War, when following surrender, the Japanese empire fell.
Korea was split into two separate entities – one in the South under American control, with the one in the North under Soviet Union control. These eventually became South Korea and North Korea.
In 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – better known as North Korea – was founded by Kim Il-sung, who ruled the nation until 1994.
But Kim’s father, and great-grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-Un, Kim Hyong-jik, was actually a strong Christian, and even served as a Protestant missionary.
In his role as a missionary, Hyong-jik spent time spreading the word of the Gospel, and attempting to spread Christianity to potential converts.
Hyong-jik’s son Il-sung initially joined him at Church, but soon turned his back on Christianity – something that would have terrible consequences for millions.
Korea had witnessed huge numbers of Christian converts in the 1800s and early parts of the 1900s. Pyongyang, future capital of the North, even became known as the “Jerusalem of the East” – such was its importance to Christians.
Kim Il-sung and Christians
With communist rule being implemented in North Korea, many Christians opted to flee to South Korea. Communism and Christianity have frequently clashed.
Il-sung closed all Churches in 1949. But over the next few decades, things changed, with Christians initially thriving in the country.
In the 1980s, North Korea produced a translated version of the Bible, with the religion being followed by huge swathes of the population.
Christians were in a number of senior positions within the government, and new Churches were frequently being opened. In fact, the number of churchgoing North Korean Christians doubled in approximately 20 years.
In 1989, a pastor from North Korea attended the well-known National Council of Churches meeting in the United States – where he suggested there were 10,000 Protestants in the country, and 1,000 Catholics.
Moreover, famous American evangelist Billy Graham visited North Korea in 1992 and 1994. He famously gave Il-sung a Bible in an incredible showing of faith.
However, away from the media, as the years went by under the rule of Kim Il-sung, hostility towards Christians increased. By the time of his death in 1994, there was some persecution of Christians.
Kim Jong-il’s rule
Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea for almost two decades. He inherited the nation at the time where the Great Famine was happening – where millions of North Korean’s were starving to death.
Religious persecution heightened under Jong-il. There were large numbers of people imprisoned – including some Christians. By the time of his death, hostility towards Christians was strong.
It was under Jong-il’s rule where Timothy Cho was imprisoned and tortured. Cho was able to escape the regime and is a Christian convert. But as this article shows, he had to overcome Jong-Il’s repressive rule in order to escape.
There have been many other defectors that have come forward to say they were persecuted under Jong-il’s reign. Jong-il was responsible as hostilities got worse, before things became horrific.
The Kim Jong-un reign: Persecution of Christians
Now, under the reign of Kim Jong-un, who became leader in 2011, Christians are persecuted more than in any other country. Christians in North Korea are routinely executed for their faith.
OpenDoors‘ report on North Korea says that if Christians are discovered, they are sent to labour camps, with their families also placed under detention there.
Christians cannot meet to worship. Even possessing a Bible is now a serious crime. Christians are savagely beaten and tortured in the detention centres.
At least 50,000 Christians are believed to be imprisoned in North Korean labour camps – where inmates are treated in sub-human ways.
It is believed that Kim Jong-un views Christianity as a threat to his own cult of personality – where essentially he views himself as God. Christianity also has close ties to the west, something that espouses values that are the antithesis of Jong-un’s views.
The population of North Korea are forced to worship the Kim family and treat them as God-like figures. They frequently bow to statues of the Kim’s, and face death if they do not worship the family.
There are currently believed to be up to 200,000 Christians in North Korea. But they are constantly at risk, with the current regime acting in a genocidal way.
The hope is that Christians will have freedom in the country in the future. Sadly, with the current regime, this may be several years away.