Christians buried alive in North Korean prison camps?


By Mark Ellis –

This picture shows a detention camp in North Korea and was drawn using a former prisoner’s testimony (Image: Amnesty International)

Young-ho* escaped from North Korea, crossing the border into China in search of food and a better life.

As he searched for a place to stay, he met a Christian missionary. “People in the place where he was staying introduced me to the Gospel and taught me how to worship God,” Young-ho recounted to Cornerstone Ministries in their Seoul office.

“Although I did not deserve their love and care, they embraced me wholeheartedly and invited me to be a part of their family in Christ.”

For whatever reason, Young-ho felt uncomfortable being loved in this way. “I did not yet have Christian faith,” he admitted. “But I was immediately glad that I was fed every day.”

Over time, their witness caused Young-ho to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior and he was born again.

One day the Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) raided the place where they lived. The PSB seized all the North Koreans and repatriated them back to North Korea.

Upon Young-ho’s return, he was sent immediately to a prison camp. “We were treated worse than dogs or cows,” he told Cornerstone. “At least those lowly creatures are fed every day. We were forced to endure constant beatings and torture.”

This drawing by a former North Korean prison guard of torture at a camp is describing a position called pigeon torture where prisoners are reportedly beaten on the chest until they vomit blood

The officers wanted to know if he met with any South Koreans in China, particularly any Korean Christian missionaries.

“One day I was told to dig a hole in the ground in the area of the prison camp. Since I was slow to follow the order, I was beaten.”

Young-ho resumed his digging. When the camp officer decided the hole was deep enough, he pointed to a bale of hay sitting on a wooden cart nearby.

“Throw the bale into the hole,” the officer demanded.

One former prisoner says pregnant women were forced to do strenuous labor to force miscarriages

Then Young-ho was told to cover the bale with the dirt he had just excavated.

But to Young-ho’s shock and horrified surprise, he saw a hand emerge from the bale and it was moving. There was a body inside the bale and the person was still alive!

“He is still alive!” he shouted to the officer.

Young-ho was beaten once more and the officer shouted, “Bastard, you just do what I told you to do and no questions.”

He submissively complied with the order, but after working on the prison camp burial detail a few more times a terrible thought entered his mind: I might be the one buried in the dirt while I’m still alive.

“I began asking God to let me see again the missionary who introduced me to Jesus and helped me make Jesus a part of my life,” he recalled.

A satellite image of a prison camp in Haengyong, North Korea

After six months in the camp, due to meager food rations, Young-ho’s weight dropped to 78 pounds.

He received an unexpected surprise one day when he learned he would be one of several prisoners released in honor of the birthday of North Korea’s leader. Two guards were assigned to escort him back to his hometown, partly due to his poor physical condition.

“When we arrived at my hometown railroad station, I fell and was not able to walk,” he recounted.

One of the guards said to the other, “He should not die right here. It’s okay if he dies after arriving at his home. Let’s get him some rice and water.”

Young-ho could hear their voices, but was so weak he couldn’t move, not even a finger. He thought about his impending death. Have I fully surrendered to Jesus? Am I worshipping in truth?

I intentionally deviated from the Word that the missionary had spoken to me, he admitted to himself. He began to repent quietly, vowing he would ask the missionary for forgiveness if he ever saw him again.

“Then I felt drops of rice water wetting my lips. I regained consciousness a few minutes later.” His tears began to flow as he realized God had been with him the whole time, sustaining him.

One of the guards said to the other guard, “He is going to live. Let’s go.”

Instead of finding his way home, Young-ho walked back to the border to attempt to cross into China. As he tried to cross the river separating the two countries, North Korean border guards caught him.

A North Korean soldier stands guard on the banks of the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju

“When they saw me, they were shocked by my emaciated appearance and took pity on me,” he recounted. “Indeed, I looked like a skeleton.”

They fed him a little rice and then commanded him to go home. Instead, he waited until it was dark and crossed the river. Once in China, he was able to locate a deaconess who had originally introduced him to the missionary.

“Do you know how much we have been praying for you?” she asked. “In fact, the whole world has prayed for your survival.”

How could this be? he wondered to himself. Then he realized the people of God are truly different.

He began to weep and cried out to God: “You brought me out of a prison camp where death is a daily companion. I could so easily have been buried alive.

“You answered my prayers and saved me!”


*name changed

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