HONG KONG (NNI) – For the first time since the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948, a building specifically for the purpose of Christian worship has been built. It was opened for use in November 1988, and visited for the first time by a foreign group of believers in late January.
The church is located in the center of the capital, Pyongyang, and is run by the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), an organization of obscure origins that boasts 5,000 members and 500 pastors. Believed to have been founded in the early 1980s, the members of the KCF have until now been using private homes for worship.
The new church, which seats 200, was full for the service attended by the foreign visitors, although they reported that all those in attendance were very old – ample evidence for tour guides who touted that “only those born prior to the 1948 revolution believe in Christ.” The visitors said they were not permitted to mix with the congregation and one reported, “I saw no Bibles there, save the one of the preacher’s.” Another said, “It was very un-Korean, especially when the prayers from the congregation were invited; the people stood and read their prayers.”
Despite the obvious lack of spontaneity, the meaning of the occasion was not lost on the visitors. Said one, “After history’s most virulent anti-religious campaign, this church building signifies that authorities are resigned to the long-term presence of Christianity.” He added, “After all, if religion is supposed to be nearly extinct, why bother to provide brand new facilities like this for a dying phenomenon?”
Prior to the Communist Revolution in 1948, Pyongyang was Asia’s most Christianized city, and was referred to as “Asia’s Jerusalem.” Out of a population of 400,000, over 50,000 people were believers. In fact, throughout the north there were 1,500 churches open as revival spread rapidly in several waves. After 1948, all churches were closed. Soon after, the civil war destroyed the church buildings and the few that were left intact were bulldozed down as the atheistic campaign under Kim Il Sung intensified in the 1950s.
Hong Kong observers are hoping, however, that the building and opening of this church may be the beginning of a more tolerant religious policy in what is still the world’s most closed society.