Estimates vary about how many Christians are in North Korea, but persecution watchdog group Open Doors places the number around 300,000, most of whom operate in secret networks of tiny house churches.
Christianity is illegal in North Korea and possessing a Bible, holding open religious services or making any attempt to build underground church networks can result in torture, lengthy prison terms or execution.
A North Korean defector, identified only as J.M., shared how he encountered Christianity after he fled to China in 1998. He was arrested by Chinese police and sent back home in 2001, and after serving several months in prison he attempted to share his faith with his parents. In 2002, J.M. escaped to South Korea so he could worship freely, and is today a Seoul-based pastor trying to promote Christianity in North Korea.
Pastor Peter Jung explains that his group provides shelter, food, and money to North Koreans visiting Chinese border towns. Before they return home, Jung said his group asks the North Korean visitors to memorize Bible verses or carry Bibles with them to share the Gospel with their friends and family.
Jung’s wife, Lee Han Byeol, also a North Korean refugee living in Seoul, recalled watching her father pray whenever her mother slipped into China. “I saw him praying many times. … My mom risked her life to go to China illegally to feed our family.” Lee said she didn’t know about Christianity at the time, as her father kept his faith to himself until his death in an apparent effort to protect his family.
According to statistics from the U.S. State Department, an estimated 120,000 Christians, defectors, and political dissidents are imprisoned in North Korean labor concentration camps where they face brutal torture.