North Korea (MNN) — Kyung-ja’s* first experience hearing about God in North Korea wasn’t from a missionary or radio broadcast or pamphlet — but from her torturer.
The North Korean guard continued to beat Kyung-ja with a club even as she faded in and out of consciousness. She had snuck into China to try and earn money for food to bring back to her starving family in North Korea. But when Kyung-ja returned to North Korea, she was arrested.
Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs USA shares, “Her interrogator kept asking her about God. ‘Did people in China talk to you about God? Did you meet with people who are followers of God? Did you read the book about God while you were in China?’
“Kyung-ja had had no contact with Christians even while she was in China. In fact, she had never heard the name of God and she kept telling the interrogator, ‘I don’t know who that is! I don’t know who you’re talking about!’”
From there, Kyung-ja was transferred to a labor camp. She asked another prisoner about God, and even her fellow prisoner affirmed there was a God but was too afraid to talk about him in the camp. However, Nettleton says the Holy Spirit planted a seed.
“If [God] was so scary to the North Korean guards and the interrogators, maybe he was powerful. She began to pray, ‘God, I don’t know if you’re real. I don’t know who you are. But if you’re there and if you can hear me, can you help me?’ She began to see answers to prayer even in those very simple, early, desperate prayers.”
Eventually, Kyung-ja escaped North Korea again. Her daughter had defected to South Korea and when Kyung-ja connected with her on the phone, her daughter was able to answer her questions about God, Jesus, and the Bible.
Kyung-ja is now faithfully following Christ and lives in South Korea where Nettleton met with her.
“She has been discipled, she now has been given God’s book so she can read it, and has really come to faith in Christ and understands what that means to have faith in Christ.”
When a North Korean man or woman chooses to follow Jesus, they know right from the get-go that it means to dedicate their entire life to him — because they could very well lose their life for him.
Nettleton explains, “They certainly know that being a believer in North Korea is a death sentence. It’s the most dangerous thing you can be in North Korea. The North Korean government views Christians as treasonous, as a threat to their government. So people in North Korea know if you follow Jesus Christ, if you have a Bible, if you are caught listening to a Christian radio broadcast, the likelihood is you are going to die, whether it is by execution immediately or you die in a labor camp.”
Currently, the world’s attention is on the Korean peninsula with the Winter Olympics taking place in South Korea until February 25th. But just 50 miles from the Olympic stadium is the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). And past that border, it is illegal to be a Christian or own a Bible.
“I hope as people are watching the Olympics, it is a constant reminder to pray for North Korea, to pray for the people there. All the people are oppressed, but Christians are oppressed more than anyone else. So pray for our Christian brothers and sisters. There are Christians in North Korea. There are people who are following Christ,” says Nettleton.
“The other thing I want to encourage people to do is just to pray for the country as a whole. One of the things that struck me as I was in South Korea meeting with North Korean defectors is how common the stories of death are. It seemed like everybody had lost someone, whether it was someone who had been executed by the government or someone who was sent to a labor camp and they just never heard from them again. They assume they’re dead and, in fact, they kind of hope they’re dead, that they’re not still suffering in that camp. Another shared a story of a spouse who committed suicide. The hopelessness was so great that the spouse just ended their life.
“It’s hard to hear stories like that and think about how much suffering is going on inside North Korea. But hopefully, that motivates us to pray for that country.”
You can also be a tangible encouragement and help spread the Gospel in North Korea by supporting Voice of the Martyrs! When you give to VOM’s ministry, you are supporting balloon launches into North Korea with Gospel materials, frontline workers sharing the Gospel and distributing Bibles secretly in North Korea, and other covert operations.
(Header photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)
*Name changed for security purposes.