Category Archives: World Watch List

North Korean Christians – Powerful and Prayerful Witness Emerging from the Trials

For the 12th straight year the Open Doors organization has ranked North Korea as the country in which the persecution of Christians is most severe. Its annual World Watch List, released in December, notes that an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 North Korean Christians are imprisoned in labor camps.

According to the report: “It is safe to say that nothing has improved for Christians since Kim Jong Un took over power….The God-like worship of the rulers leaves no room for any other religion. Any reverence not concentrated on the Kim dynasty will be seen as dangerous and state-threatening.

“Not only will the believers themselves be punished if they are discovered, but likely also their families. Immediate family members, even if they aren’t Christians themselves, will serve a sentence in a re-education camp. Christians are sent to political labor camps, from which there is no release possible.”

It was the third-century church father Tertullian who stated that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church, and certainly this is what we have witnessed in South Korea.

Korean Christians endured fierce persecution in the 19th century from their own government, and then in the early 20th century from the Japanese colonial rulers. Martyrs numbered in the many thousands.

But today Christians comprise some 30 per cent of the South Korean population, and a vibrant and dynamic Korean church is making its mark around the world.

Might we expect something similar from North Korea? This was the view of Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor who experienced first-hand the brutality of life in North Korea when he worked there for 18 months.

“I am sure that once North Korea is free, Christianity will boom there in a way that will even dwarf its growth in the South,” he told a journalist in 2002.

Recently I interviewed Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, which works to help the persecuted Christians of North Korea. I noted that Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, was known in the early 20th century as “the Jerusalem of the East” for its strong and defiant Christian witness, and I asked him if Christianity might one day flourish there again.

“I do think such a phenomenon is a distinct possibility,” he told me.

“Just as the generation of persecuted Chinese believers grew into strong leaders when greater freedom came to China, I do feel that many North Korean believers will shine as purified gold once the Kim family regime is dethroned in the North.”

Then he added pointedly: “This would be all the more true because many South Korean Protestant churches are undergoing a serious crisis due to materialism and authoritarian leadership, among other challenges. North Korean Christians, in their simplicity, humility and utter dependence on God, could constitute just the antidote to the spiritual maladies in the South.”

No Christians in their right minds could wish on our North Korean brothers and sisters their present torment. But is it possible that from these trials will emerge a powerful and prayerful witness that could, eventually, shake up the very foundations of global Christendom?

Not The Best Time To Be In Korea

My wife is in Korea right now visiting her family. It’s not the best time to be in Korea, and I’ll be happy when she gets back, next Tuesday.

She says that the media are full of reports on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, and how to escape if Seoul is invaded. It’s all adding to the fear level, which is already high. Many foreign residents have left.

I’ve written several times in my novels about North Korea, rated by Open Doors in its World Watch List as the country where Christians endure the worst persecution.

Here is an excerpt from my novel Military Orders:

Sunhee witnessed her first public execution when she was nine years old. It was an exhilarating experience, like watching a movie in real life, and she recalled it often, especially when it came time for her own execution.

In a country where the primary entertainment was the cinema, mainly featuring movies about North Korea’s triumph over the imperialist United States, the Great Leader had added public executions as another means to keep his population docile. These provided drama while engendering fear.

Sunhee recalled that, a few days before the event, posters went up around town to announce that the condemned man had been convicted of stealing state property and had been sentenced to death. On the day itself kids skipped school, and Sunhee even spotted some of her teachers in the crowd. The location was a disused strip of rocky land between the railway station and the seafront.

First the man was paraded through the main thoroughfare of Kyongsong, the only paved street in the town. The excited crowd followed, growing larger as the time of the execution drew near. Sunhee recalled that at one time during the procession she was close enough to the man to look into his face. He was quite old. And in his eyes she saw not fear but indifference.

At the site a hole in the ground had been readied, and soldiers pushed a thick pole into this. The man was made to don a specially designed padded execution suit, intended to absorb his blood.

Then the soldiers tied the condemned man to the post in three places, at his eyes, chest and legs, and placed a large open body bag at his feet. Sunhee was near the front, with the other kids, hoping that after the soldiers had fired their rounds they might retrieve the spent shells as souvenirs.

Now the drama began. Three soldiers raised their rifles and aimed. Their commanding officer gave the order. They fired first at the eyes. The rope snapped and the man’s head collapsed, as if he were bowing to the crowd. At the same time his head exploded with a burst of steam and his brains cascaded into the body bag. A second volley at the chest sent him crashing head-first – or what remained of the head – towards the body bag. A final volley at the legs snapped the ropes there, and the entire body fell into the bag. A couple of young soldiers then swiftly dumped the bag onto the back of a truck, for later disposal in the mountains.

As intended, it was all quite theatrical. Sunhee’s two brothers later told her that this quick execution was reserved for relatively minor crimes. Those convicted of significant offenses against the state received a public hanging, which in North Korea meant a rope around the neck, then being hauled slowly upwards into the air and left to die a lingering, kicking, screaming death.

How Bad Is Persecution In India?

By Martin Roth

Reports that India had 131 instances of attacks on Christians last year caused me to wonder if there might not be an element of under-reporting here. Yes, India is a democracy with, apparently, a growing number of Christians. Yet the Open Doors World Watch List ranks it 31st – moderate persecution, between Tunisia and Myanmar – in its listing of the countries where Christians face most hardships in practising their faith.

Christians in India face opposition from militant Hindu adherents of the Hindutva movement, from Communists and from Islamists.

So I was not surprised by this week’s Morning Star News headline: “Under-Reporting Obscures Martyrdom of Christians in India.” According to the report:

Four Christians in India died for their faith last year, but incomplete information obscured the anti-Christian hostility in three of the deaths, sources said. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal states where the killings took place, area Christians assert that the murders were rooted in opposition to Christianity; specifically, radical Hindus viewing Christianity as a threat to Hinduism and Indian nationalism as a unified identify. In three of the four deaths, however, under-reporting obscured the acts or motives of the attackers.

We are only one month into the new year, and already we have instances of the continuing persecution of Indian Christians.

*  In Andhra Pradesh, Hindutva militants attacked a group of Christians at a birthday party and arranged for the arrest of a pastor.

* Also in Andhra Pradesh, Hindutva militants attacked worshippers at a church service.

* Hindutva militants in Chhattisgarh have destroyed a Christian cemetary wall.

* Government authorities have demolished a church in Hyderabad.

* In the village of Tamsai, near New Delhi, Christians have several times been attacked by Hindu militants.

Open Doors has this sad conclusion on India: “It is very likely that persecution will increase in 2013 and in the run-up to the 2014 elections.”

Brunei – Where Oil and Christianity Don’t Always Mix

By Martin Roth

Brunei is a tiny kingdom on the island of Borneo. Thanks to its oil and gas riches it is fabulously wealthy, and is thus – like Saudi Arabia – courted by the West, with human rights abuses often glossed over. Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands is there right now on an official visit, accompanied by a trade delegation.

BosNewsLife takes the opportunity to point out that Brunei is in fact a country with a reputation for persecuting its Christian minority.

With energy giant Shell hoping to extend its foot print in Brunei’s extensive oil and gas fields, the monarch was not expected to make comments on more sensitive religious rights issues.

Well-informed Open Doors, a Netherlands-based Christian relief group, said ahead of her visit that the sultan announced preparations for an ‘Islamic Criminal Law’ to “complicate the situation for the Christian minority further, especially those known to have converted.”

The planned legislation was not expected to receive much opposition from the rubber-stamp parliament, which the sultan reopened in 2004 some 20 years after it was suspended.

In its recent World Watch List, Open Doors ranked Brunei #27 of the 50 countries where Christians suffer most for their faith. It said:

The church is not able to function freely and churches are “spied on” by government officials. Providing theological training is difficult and Christian bookshops are not allowed. The level of fear among Christians is very high.

Nevertheless, check out the 30-Days Prayer Network website, where a posting on religious discrimination in Brunei has attracted some interesting comments, including several from Brunei Christians who dispute suggestions of persecution.

Buddhist Bhutan Continues To Discriminate Against Christians

By Martin Roth

Buddhism is widely viewed as a religion of tolerance, able to co-exist with all other religions. Don’t tell that to the Christians of Sri Lanka, who have endured waves of persecution. Nor to the Christians of Bhutan.

Bhutan is a small Asian kingdom wedged between India and China. Buddhists make up three-quarters of the population, with Hindus most of the remainder, although there is also a small and growing Christian presence. The country ranks at No. 28 – moderate persecution – on the Open Doors World Watch List of Christian persecution.

The Bhutanese king is due in India later this week for India’s Republic Day celebrations. The president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, Sajan George, took the occasion to call for religious freedom for the kingdom’s Christians.

Since 2006, the Bhutanese government has introduced democratic reforms after centuries of absolute monarchy during which religions other than Buddhism were banned.

In 2008, a new constitution was adopted that, formally at least, recognised religious freedom for all Bhutanese, as long as they informed the authorities. A few Hindu temples were thus built but Christians continue to be denied the right to build their churches or hold Masses in public.

The situation has in fact worsened since anti-conversion laws were adopted in 2010. “These laws were designed to prevent forced conversions or the use of financial inducements to convert,” said Sajan George. “And they impose a three-year sentence for ‘proselytising’.

“As in some Indian states, these laws are being used to persecute Christians, on the basis of false charges with regards to forced conversions,” he explained. “Often, they are used against charities as well.”

It is perhaps ironic that Bhutan practices Vajrayana Buddhism, also called Tibetan Buddhism, as it is the Dalai Lama who is often viewed as the key figure in promoting Buddhism as a religion of tolerance.

I feature Tibetan Buddhism extensively in my novel “Military Orders,” a Christian thriller about the search for a new Dalai Lama, where I describe this style of Buddhism as “signs and wonders,” with practitioners, under the direction of a spiritual guide, forming relationships with the occult.

World Watch List – Not Enough Reporting

By Martin Roth

Everyone loves a Top Ten list, and the Open Doors World Watch List of the countries (the top fifty, actually, although the top ten are highlighted) where Christians suffer the most persecution is a marvellous strategy for raising awareness.

Yet it is mainly the Christian media that publicize the list. For example, for the 2013 list, released on January 8th, you can see reports at Christianity Today, Christian Today, Christian News Network, The Christian Century and others.

It was far more sparsely reported in the secular media. You can find something at American Thinker and National Review Online. And some newspapers picked up a short AP dispatch – for example the Monterey County Herald, the Casa Grande Dispatch and the Star Press. The Voice of Russia, a radio broadcaster, carried a report that included interviews with several experts, under the headline “Persecution of Christians: natural effect of the Arab Spring.”

But again it seems that this is a story that the secular media choose to ignore.