It is easy nowadays to overlook North Korea. Many Christians who are burdened by the plight of the persecuted church now direct much of their prayer to the Middle East, where the flood of horrific news seems ceaseless. By contrast, so encompassing is the veil of secrecy over North Korea that we hear little about the suffering of Christians there.
Thus, the Open Doors World Watch List for 2016 of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith has performed an important service in once again highlighting the appalling regime of North Korea.
For the 14th straight year North Korea has been listed as the country where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
According to Open Doors, some 50,000 to 70,000 of an estimated 300,000 North Korean Christians are in prison camps.
Christianity is not only seen as “opium for the people,” as is normal for all communist states, it is also seen as deeply Western and despicable. Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to labor camps with horrific conditions. Thus, one’s Christian faith usually remains a well-protected secret, and most parents refrain from introducing their children to the Christian faith in order to make sure that nothing slips their tongue when they are asked.
Such is the secrecy that prevails, we learn little about true conditions within the country, and in particular the predicament of Christians.
Occasional items of news sneak out. For example, I recently met a man who actually visited the country a few years ago. It is known that North Korea has a tuberculosis problem. According to the World Health Organization, 5,000 died from the disease in 2014. But this man said medical workers told him the problem is almost certainly significantly worse, with numerous cases that are not officially recorded.
In another glimpse, a Bangkok newspaper reported recently that some 2,000 North Korean refugees were arriving illegally in Thailand each year, and the number seemed set to rise.
Most come via China and Laos and were, according to the report, a “growing dilemma.” The newspaper quoted an immigration official as stating that the Thai government wished to work with the Laotian government to stem the refugee flow.
But these are just snapshots, and otherwise we must assume that conditions remain as dire as has sometimes been reported.
I have a particular concern for North Korea. My wife is Korean, from Seoul. But both her parents are refugees who fled from the North during the Korean War. My wife probably has relatives in North Korea, but she does not know who they are and she has certainly never been able to contact them.
So she prays, for North Korean Christians and for all North Koreans. She feels that is about all she can do. Please join her in prayer. Please do not forget North Korea.