The North Korean component in the persecution of Christians

The normally diplomatic Pope Francis recently asserted: “The persecution of Christians today is even greater than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.”

To those familiar with the history of early persecution — when Christians were habitually tortured to death, set on fire, fed to lions and dismembered to cheering audiences — his statement may seem exaggerated. But even today, as in the past, Christians are indeed being persecuted for their faith and even tortured and executed.

A January, 2014, Pew Research Center study on religious discrimination across the world found that harassment of Christians was reported in more countries (110) than any other faith.

Open Doorsa nondenominational Christian rights watchdog group, ranked the 50 most dangerous nations for Christians in its World Watch List. The No. 1 ranked nation is North Korea, followed by a host of Muslim countries. (Disturbing indeed is the fact that three of these countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya — were “liberated” in part thanks to U.S. forces, while in the fourth, Syria, the U.S. is actively sponsoring the “rebels,” many of whom are responsible for attacks and kidnappings of Christians.)

North Korea, amongst other Communist countries, is intolerant of Christians; churches are banned or forced underground, and exposed Christians can be immediately executed.

Nothing integral to the fabric of these societies makes them intrinsically anti-Christian. Something as simple as overthrowing the North Korean regime could possibly end persecution there — just as the fall of Communist Soviet Union saw religious persecution come to a quick close in nations like Russia.

To influence these situations, Western nations must make foreign aid contingent on the rights and freedoms of minorities. After all, if we are willing to give billions in foreign aid, often on humanitarian grounds, surely the very least that recipient governments can do is provide humanitarian rights, including religious freedom.

[Read full CNN article] 

Reasons why North Korea is not the worst place on earth to be a Christian

North Korea has been described as “the worst place on earth to be a Christian.” The leader of one ministry working with the North Korean Underground Church points out that is not how the Christians of North Korea themselves feel, as well as offering his own perspective.

The Rev. Eric Foley, CEO of Seoul USA, says “Our reckoning that North Korea is the worst place to be a Christian says more about our own understanding of Christianity than it does about North Korea.” Adds Foley, “North Korean underground Christians are among the least likely group to defect since they feel their existence in North Korea has divine purpose.”

Foley offers his list of “10 Reasons North Korea is not the Worst Place to be a Christian”, amongst them:

  1. If you are a Christian in a country where no Christians are suffering for Jesus you probably ought to be more concerned — than if you are a Christian in a country where nearly every Christian is suffering for Jesus.
  2. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you…For your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5: 11–12).
  3. We Western Christians sometimes confuse God with Mammon. North Korean Christians daily see the difference clearly.

 

North Korea sees Christians as ‘serious threat’

The recent 372-page U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that shows North Korean leaders considers the spread of Christianity a particularly “serious threat.”

This is because “it ideologically challenges the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the State realm,” says the report.

“Children are taught to revere and idolize Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and now Kim Jong-un. Plaques with slogans, posters and drawings expressing gratitude to the Supreme Leader are found in kindergartens irrespective of the children’s ability to fully comprehend these messages.

It said, “Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted. People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination.”

The report said one estimate suggests there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians still professing their religion secretly in North Korea despite the high risks.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay  welcomed the report and said “its findings need to be treated with the greatest urgency, as they suggest that crimes against humanity of an unimaginable scale continue to be committed in the DPRK.”

[Ecumenical News]

New South Korean film portrayal of Christian suffering in North Korea

Christians in North Korea face beatings, torture, arbitrary shooting and execution. It is difficult, though, to comprehend the true nature of the terror of the victims, the extent of the persecution, and the bravery of their struggle.

A new film, “The Apostle: He Was Anointed by God,” presents a fictionalized account based on stories culled by South Korean director Kim Jin-moo.

The plot revolves around Chul-ho who wants to lead villagers across the river to China and from there to South Korea. He, his family and friends, face varying degrees of terrorism by North Korean soldiers, some of them glad to accept bribes, others promising to get tough against dissidents in their midst.

The film introduces, on a highly personal level, the types of conflicts among all these people that we can only imagine – the aging father who just wants to pay off the authorities whenever expedient, the pregnant woman who hides away but also gets killed, the Christian who praises Kim Jong-il in a sermon in one of those phony authorized churches in Pyongyang, the young soldier who himself is a Christian and attends underground services while in uniform.

One of the more interesting studies in “The Apostle” is that of the North Korean squad leader who warns Christians of the troubles they face under a new, ambitious officer and then obeys the officer when expedient, as when villagers are shot and killed as they try to flee across the snow into China. The differences among North Koreans are essential to the credibility of the film since they portray characters who suffer not only from ideological fanaticism but also from opportunism and the need to survive under a brutal regime that will kill anyone who shows any sign of insubordination.

For those who worry about the fate of unknown tens of thousands of secret Christians in North Korea, this is a powerful film with a believable story. Chul-ho dies as a martyr to his faith. Peter Jung, founder of Justice for North Korea, presenting the film, complete with English subtitles, said his organization will show it on March 17 in Geneva during debate at the UN Council for Human rights on the report on human rights in North Korea by a commission authorized by the council.

A book by Jung and activist Kim Hi-tae, “The Persecuted Catacomb Christians of North Korea,” is quoted in the report. Copies of the book, in both English and Korean, were handed out after the screening of the film. It provides an astonishing glimpse into the history of Christianity in Korea, the suffering that Christians have endured historically and the brutality that exists today in North Korea.

[Forbes]

A new North Korean declaration of war on Christians?

Since November, North Korea has arrested a Korean American missionary, a South Korean missionary, and an Australian missionary. Christian News Wire asks, “Do these arrests represent a declaration of war on Christians?”

Not a new one, says the CEO of one North Korea ministry. According to the Rev. Eric Foley of Seoul USA, “It’s important to remember that the war on Christians was declared by North Korea with its formal establishment as a state in 1948 and has been unrelenting ever since.”

Foley says that those being held — Korean American Kenneth Bae, South Korean Kim Jong Uk, and Australian John Short — should be remembered in our prayers “along with the 30,000 North Korean underground Christians who are paying the price of faith in quiet anonymity in North Korea’s concentration camps.”

Foley notes that “… We can conclude with certainty is that there is no ‘back door’ into North Korea — no strategy for sharing the gospel there that does not involve paying the highest of personal prices. This is what North Korean underground Christians have known and practiced for years, and Bae, Kim, and Short have now joined that story personally.”

Foley says that what has surprised him the most personally about North Korean underground Christians is their acceptance that the practice of their faith will naturally lead them to imprisonment in a concentration camp. “They do not regard imprisonment with surprise or outrage, as if it were unusual,” notes Foley.

“They regard the camps as their mission field and see everything that leads up to their imprisonment as training for that most grueling of missionary services. For North Korean Christians,” says Foley, “the imprisonment is when missionary service truly begins.”

North Korean Prison Camp Locations

North Korean prsion camp locationsThe report issued by UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea is staggering in its breadth and detail, including ample reference to North Korean prison camps. The adjacent map details locations of the prison system throughout the country. (Click on map to enlarge)

The Economist estimates between 80,000 and 120,000 people are imprisoned in these camps, and notes that they are usually members of one of three groups:

  • people trying to flee the country,
  • Christians and those promoting other “subversive” beliefs, or
  • political prisoners.

The UN report is written by a three-member UN panel headed by Michael Kirby, an Australian former judge, and it is extraordinary in the fierceness of its condemnation.  Mr. Kirby told journalists North Korea was comparable to “Nazi Germany,” and the report itself urges the UN to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for prosecution for war crimes. In a letter sent directly to Kim Jong Un, the North’s dictator, the commission warned that he could be held accountable for crimes against humanity.

For all its might, though, the Commission of Inquiry may not have much teeth. China, as a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council, can veto any referral to the ICC. And China certainly has no reason to call attention to human rights abuses. As The Economist noted, Beijing has blood on its hands, too:

“Equally striking is the [report’s] indictment directed by the COI at China. Chinese leaders refused to let the commission visit its border provinces with North Korea and have opposed the commission’s inquiry from the start. They too received a critical letter from the commission, suggesting that they are ‘aiding and abetting crimes against humanity’. Refugees are routinely rounded up inside China and returned to North Korea, often to face imprisonment, torture and even execution.”

A 36-page summary of the 400-page report can be found here.

Christians help North Koreans escape

A new underground railroad run significantly by Christians has formed to help North Koreans escape their oppressive regime, Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick told The Daily Caller.

“The new underground railroad is a secret network of safe houses and escape routes that carries North Koreans across China to safety in neighboring countries,” said Kirkpatrick. “Two groups of people operate the new underground railroad,” she continued, “brokers, who are in it for the money, and humanitarian workers — especially Christians — who are in it to serve God.”

“It is against Chinese law to assist North Koreans, and anyone who helps them is subject to arrest, prison, and, if he’s a foreigner, expulsion. I profile several American Christians who help. They operate safe houses, they run orphanages, and they lead North Koreans out of China. These people are brave and incredibly inspiring.”

“There are also secret Christian missionaries in North Korea. These usually are North Koreans who were converted in China and now feel the call to go home and evangelize, and who are planting secret new churches in the North.”

Kirkpatrick says escaping North Korea is no easy task. “Anyone who wants to escape needs large measures of courage, determination and luck,” she said. “The only practical escape route is through China — across the Yalu or Tumen River. North Koreans who cross the river to China can be shot in the back by North Korean border guards.”

Underground Railroad sowing seeds for change within North Korea

“China refuses to let the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees or any other international aid group help North Koreans [who escape North Korea.  Instead China repatriates them to North Korea where they are killed.] …This is an indictment of China.”

It is a crime to leave North Korea. Yet increasing numbers of North Koreans dare to flee. They go first to neighboring China, which rejects them as criminals, then on to Southeast Asia or Mongolia, and finally to South Korea, the United States, and other free countries.

The conductors on the new underground railroad are Christians who are in it to serve God, while others are brokers who are in it for the money. The Christians see their mission as the liberation of North Korea one person at a time.

Just as escaped slaves from the American South educated Americans about the evils of slavery, the North Korean fugitives are informing the world about the secretive country they fled.

The New Underground Railroad describes how they also are sowing the seeds for change within North Korea itself. Once they reach sanctuary, the escapees channel news back to those they left behind. In doing so, they are helping to open their information-starved homeland, exposing their countrymen to liberal ideas, and laying the intellectual groundwork for the transformation of the totalitarian regime that keeps their fellow citizens in chains.

With a journalist’s grasp of events and a novelist’s ear for narrative, Melanie Kirkpatrick tells the story of the North Koreans’ quest for liberty. Click here to order the book from Amazon