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Report from the Church in North Korea

By Editorial Staff
Published December 22, 2007

HONG KONG (ODNS) – Asian populations under Communist rule are generally referred to as living behind a “bamboo curtain.” But never was a metaphor more inappropriate to convey the impenetrable nature of the barrier erected between North Koreans and the outside world in the bloody aftermath of the Korean War in 1953.

A more appropriate metaphor to describe the utter isolation of North Koreans from foreign influence might well have been “concrete curtain.” At that time, visits and letters in and out of the country were banned and a self-proclaimed messiah, Kim Il Sung, created a personality cult so vast that it swiftly became a religion which culminated in his claim to bestow “1,000 years of eternal life” upon his followers.

Thirty-five years of total isolation has left its mark on an entire generation. One night, a recent visitor to Pyongyang was sought out by his guide who pleaded, “Please be my friend. I do not have a single friend in the whole wide world outside North Korea.” He added tearfully, “We are the loneliest people on earth.”

The 20 million inhabitants of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are also prime candidates for the “most repressed” people on earth. In the latest edition of the World Human Rights Guide, North Korea gains a human rights rating of 17 percent – the second lowest in the world. Ethiopia was lowest.

Yet this may soon change. A desperate shortage of hard currency, plus a desire to stage some events in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, have combined to spark a small but growing tourist industry. Except for South Koreans and some U.S. citizens, ordinary tourists are permitted to visit the country. Even North Korean VIPs are given more freedom to travel abroad now. These are minor changes of course, but major ones are expected when Kim Il Sung – now an ailing 75-year-old dies or relinquishes power.

Expectations of change have Western observers eagerly wondering about the status of the church in the DPRK. The leading question is centered on whether the church has survived. First, because the vast majority of Christians fled from North Korea during the civil war in the early 1950s, and second, because all vestiges of Christianity were annihilated with a ruthlessness unmatched in the history of communism. All churches were closed, known Christians shot, and the Bible banned and burned.

Sources confirm that the church is alive and well in North Korea. The first source is officials of the DPRK government. In 1984, the World Council of Churches (WCC) received an invitation from North Korea to visit with a formerly unknown “Korean Christian Federation.” When an official delegation from the WCC visited Pyongyang in November 1985, they were told that the Federation was modeled after China’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement. i.e., state controlled and non-denominational, which had actually been in existence for “at least 15 years” though no one is sure when it originated.

A second source of factual information about Christians in North Korea are the Korean Christians in Manchuria, some of whom have traveled to North Korea and met with fellow believers. Approximately three million ethnic Koreans live in China, mostly spread throughout the three provinces of Liaoning, Jilin (which both border North Korea) and Heilongjiang. They can travel in and out of North Korea to visit relatives and it is know that some North Koreans are allowed into China to pay return visits.

In 1984-1985, representatives of the mission, Diaspora International, a Los Angeles-based ministry founded to mobilize Koreans worldwide in anticipation of the opening of the DPRK – began to contact Korean Christians in China. Although at first reluctant to divulge information, in 1986 China’s Korean Christians revealed that individuals among them had traveled to North Korea and worshipped with fellow believers.

These sources claim that there are many small groups of believers meeting in villages throughout the CPRK. They do not know of any meetings larger than twenty. Guards are always posted, windows blanketed and singing hushed. They have few Bibles and those circulated are for the most part hand-copied portions or editions of a 1930s version.

Even for the Chinese Koreans the border crossing is tight. They are searched thoroughly for letters, photographs or gifts, but even so a steady trickle of New Testaments did filter in last year. In September, a letter from a DPRK Christian was smuggled out of the country, stating, “Pray that the government will open the churches … It is impossible to share our faith. I am severely persecuted now because my neighbors know I am a believer …”

Visitors to the DPRK are another source of information, some of whom have felt sure they met genuine Christians, but of course were not able to confirm this publicly. In 1987, the numbers of tourists visiting North Korea increased dramatically with over ten travel agencies offering no less than ninety scheduled tours.

One group of Christian visitors reported that they slipped out of their hotel one night in downtown Pyongyang, parked themselves on a street corner and began to sing Christmas carols. “We sang familiar ones like ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful.’ We didn’t bellow, we just sang softly but the still night air seemed to amplify our singing.” They reported that many people came up to them smiling as if they knew the hymns, and nodding as if they agreed with the sentiments.

Whether or not the church in North Korea exists today is no longer questionable. In recent years Communist officials, China-based Korean Christians and tourists have all confirmed, in their own peculiar way, the reality of a true church behind the “concrete curtain.”


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Your comments are welcome!

Thank you brother for helping us to know about our brothers those who are suffering on the other end. It will help us to pray for them.

Posted by pastormark on 12/03/2011 12:51 PM #

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“Give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.

The freedom our Founders envisioned was not freedom from suffering, want, or hard work. Nor was it freedom to indulge every appetite or whim without restraint—that would merely be servitude to a different master. No, the Founders’ passion was to live free before God, unfettered by the chains of autocracy, shackles that slowly but inexorably bind men when the governments they fashion fail to recognize and uphold freedom’s singular, foundational truth: that all men are created in the image of God, and are thereby co-equally endowed with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

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This DVD features “Liberty: The Model of Christian Liberty” along with “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations.” Bonus features include a humorous but instructive collection of campaign ads and Eric Holmberg’s controversial YouTube challenge concerning Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.

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That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!

Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.

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The Silent Scream (DVD) Eight Languages

“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981

Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House.

The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.

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Running Time: 28 minutes

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Foundations in Biblical Eschatology

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All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

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Go Stand Speak (DVD)

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Does the Bible really call church pastors, leaders and evangelists to proclaim the gospel in the public square as part of obedience to the Great Commission, or is public preaching something that is outdated and not applicable for our day and age?

These any many other questions are answered in this documentary.

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