By Mark Ellis
He escaped from North Korea 15 years ago and became a Christian in South Korea. On a recent mission trip to North Korea’s Hamgyong province, he found young leaders well-trained in Christian theology, eager to build God’s underground church in one of the most repressive and isolated governments on earth.
“I taught three North Korean Christians,” says Jihoon *. “All of them were from my hometown. It was really good to meet them. They had already studied theology and were trained very well.”
The men discussed the peculiar ideology that rules North Korea – “Juche” – which became a cult of personality centered around its founding proponent, Kim Il-sung, now considered the ‘eternal president’ of North Korea following his death in 1994. The Juche idea states that “man is the master of everything and decides everything.”
“I told them that Kim Il Sung’s parents were Christians and he also knew about the Bible so that Kim Il Sung made the Juche ideology based on the Bible,” Jihoon recounts. “Kim Il Sung twisted the truth of the Bible to establish his own idea.”
The underpinning of Juche came as a surprise to the North Korean believers. “The three of them were shocked. I told them that that kind of sin must be repented before God.”
The capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, was once the epicenter of Christian activity in Korea. But under severe persecution in the late 1940s, almost all Christian leaders were martyred or carted off to concentration camps. The government systematically destroyed all church buildings.
Currently, there are only four state-sanctioned churches, which many consider stage-props designed to deceive foreign visitors. The persecution of Christians in North Korea is among the worst in the world, with 50,000–70,000 Christians imprisoned in concentration camps.
It was emotional for the men when Jihoon departed, not knowing when or if they would see each other again. “When we said good bye, they said ‘Pastor! We will wait for you. We will build up churches and wait for you. When we meet together again in North Korea, lets worship together.’”
“Yes, go for it!” Jihoon replied. “Go and build up churches. I will follow you!”
“We praise God who is still working in North Korea,” says Thomas Kim, executive director of Cornerstone Ministries, which trains leaders and smuggles Bibles into North Korea. “He is calling and training His people one by one for His own glory.”
Ironically, the Christian church has experienced some of its most rapid growth under repressive regimes, despite despotic leaders’ frantic efforts to stamp it out. “God has never allowed the power of darkness to overcome the church in North Korea,” Kim notes. “We give you praise and thanks that the gospel is still being preached to North Korean people even in warlike persecution.”
Thomas Kim offers this prayer for those serving the Lord in North Korea: “We thank you Lord for souls being saved in North Korea. Father we pray that more North Korean missionaries and pastors may get opportunities to share your words and grace with their own kindred and friends. They can understand each other because they are from the same cultural and language background. We pray that your Kingdom will come to North Korea through these missionaries and pastors. Please protect these dear missionaries during their journeys. Please grant them divine wisdom when they preach and teach your words in each place. We pray that you will secure their every step. Also we pray for them to be abundantly provided for during their missionary works. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
* Name changed for security reasons