Due to extreme Christian persecution in North Korea, the country remains one of the hardest places in the world in which to practice the Christian faith. An official church called the Korean Christian Federation exists, but it is doubtful whether it is a genuine church, and probably maintained to impress gullible foreign visitors. The State is the primary persecutor, classifying Christians as “hostile” according to the songbun system of dividing the population into three primary groups.
The “hostile” class are significantly disadvantaged in access to food, education and employment. Worse, this classification is historic. One is classed as “hostile” if one’s grandparents once professed Christianity. Since the whole country is organized around a cult with all the characteristics of an extreme religion, persecuted Christians in North Korea represent a threat to the worship monopoly of the regime.
Still, Christians do exist, but only in very secret house churches, and even then organized along family lines to preserve safety. Some NGO’s estimate that 50-70,000 Christians languish in North Korean labor camps in conditions comparable to Nazi death camps. Said one refugee, “If it is known you are a Christian, you are jailed. And you will never get out of jail unless you escape.” However, estimates of 200,000+ Christians persist, even through rampant Christian persecution in North Korea, mainly due to the fact that in the late 1990’s over a million North Koreans fled a famine into China, where many were converted and chose to go back despite being warned by the then leader, Kim Jong Il, not to return if they had become “contaminated with foreign religion.”
Chairman Kim Jong-un
“To be a Christian in North Korea is to be constantly on the verge of extinction. If the government finds out our beliefs, it is death or jail. Heaven is always tomorrow for us.”
A PERSECUTED CHRISTIAN WHO FLED TO SOUTH KOREA FROM THE NORTH
History of Christianity in North Korea
Christianity was brought to the Korean peninsula in the late 1700’s when in 1784 the newly baptized intellectual Yi Seung-hun returned study in Beijing to found the first Catholic community.
A refusal to venerate ancestors saw a fierce persecution which killed 8000 believers in 1866. Protestants arrived most notably in 1864 with a convert called Suh Sang-ryun smuggling a Korean translation of Luke’s Gospel produced by Protestant missionaries in China. Soon Christianity was flourishing and even though the Japanese occupied the country from 1905-1945 a revival broke out in 1907 in Pyongyang, causing it to be dubbed “the Jerusalem of Asia.”
Hundreds of thousands converted but many fled south during the Korean war, bringing their influence and revival with them into South Korea. Meanwhile, the North fell to the Communists under Kim IL Sung in 1945, who launched one of the severest persecutions of Christians in the 20th century. The 1950’s saw extraordinary attempts to annihilate the faith, including teachers enlisting all their pupils to spy on their parents for signs of religious activity.
When Christians were exposed, they were usually killed. This was in part to make sure there were no rivals to the bizarre worship cult around Kim IL Sung and his descendants. Each town has a vast statue of a member of the dynasty; the countryside is festooned with posters; children are taught to say grace to him for their meals, and claims continue to be made that the Kim’s have godlike powers. Not for nothing have some labelled the world’s most Stalinist country, ironically, “the world’s most religious country.”