Persecution. Death. That’s the cost of being a Christian today in North Korea. The nation is known for being one of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world. Christianity can be a death sentence. Secret police carry out raids and monitor school teachers for signs of Christian faith in children.
There are as many as 70,000 Christians being held in prison camps in North Korea under horrific conditions. Few will ever make it out. To discuss this and more, the Reverend Dr. Eric Foley, and his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, joined us for this 20Twenty conversation.
Co-founders of ‘Voice of the Martyrs Korea’, Eric and Hyun have trained more than 1300 churches and Christian NGOs to build volunteer and giving programs grounded in Christianity. Also joining this discussion to share some insights is Tony Benjamin, the CEO of ‘Voice of the Martyrs Australia’.
Rev. Foley believes we now know a lot about North Korea due to the escape of 32,000 of its citizens. It’s given an opportunity to make connections, to build networks and to recognize that the situation facing north Korean Christians is more than a stereotype. “A lot of the misinformation shared about North Korea actually has the effect of covering up the really big challenge facing Christians”, says Rev. Foley. “Christianity actually came into the country via the Korean peninsula. North Korea is unique because it’s the only country where Bibles enter the country before missionaries. People became Christians before the first missionaries even arrived.”
As Christianity developed inside Korea, it became known as Bible Christianity. From the very beginning, it wasn’t based on Pastors or church buildings. It was based upon Christ being fully present in His word.
Korean Christians would gather together in small groups to try to puzzle over the New Testament and understand what it meant to follow Jesus Christ.
Dr. Foley says that people think from outside of North Korea it is impossible to spread the gospel there. “But we need to remember God is at work and very active in North Korea, even though there is a lot of persecution,”, she says. “For example, people ask me how we were able to work in North Korea because of coronavirus. But actually, my answer is we were able to be more active because of the virus. The security agents didn’t want to come out to check all the people. So they didn’t do anything. And then all the North Korean Christians were free to listen to the radio and read the Bible. God is working whatever happens, and we have to be faithful to what He’s called us to do.”
Rev. Foley continues that when people talk about North Korea, they say it’s the worst place in the world to be a Christian. “But the North Korean Christians have never said that. In fact, there was one woman who was in a Concentration Camp as a result of her faith. And some believers were explaining to her that Christians around the world were praying for her release. But she answered them and said that,
‘Romans 8:28 works just as well inside a North Korean Concentration camp, as it does in the rest of the world.'”
The gospel is not growing in North Korea because the Government is more open to it. North Korea is as hostile as it’s ever been. In fact, just this week, new laws were passed that made punishments even worse for youth that participate in counter ideological activities. So Christianity is not growing because the Government says it’s okay, it’s because people realize conclusively that Jesus Christ is the only hope.
Rev. Foley says that as part of that, people are having to pay a tremendous price. “We certainly do in our work. And when I say us, I mean all of our workers in North Korea, China, Russia, Mongolia and Southeast Asia. But the Biblical view on persecution is that anyone who seeks to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
“The happiest Christians I’ve ever seen in the world are North Korean Christians, because they have only Christ. And they’ve realized that He is sufficient.”
To listen to the rest of this fascinating insight into Christianity in North Korea, click below.