Story North Korea | 27 January 2021

The secret life of a North Korean church leader


Show: false / Country: North Korea / North Korea
“Whenever I open my eyes in the morning, I have felt the presence of our Father.”

Each morning, Bae* wakes up and starts her day in a rustic shack in a rural village, somewhere in the mountains of North Korea. Her husband is groggy from the short night of sleep, and she can hear the rustling of the other people in her house, getting ready for another day in the fields. 

She hopes she’ll meet her work quota picking crops. She doesn’t want to risk additional punishment, or the loss of her brief moments during the day when she can forage food. 

She collects her food rations around 6 a.m., and trudges off to the fields. The government provides food for people like her—but just enough to keep them alive to work. She knows her breakfast won’t be enough to ease the gaping hunger in her belly. Like all the other people in her village, Bae is starving. She’s not hungry enough to die—at least, not yet. But the hunger is always there, gnawing at her bones like an untamable animal. 

When Bae is able to take a short break, she heads for the woods. The mushrooms and plants she collects from the forest help stem the growling of her belly, but that extra food is never a sure thing.

Finally, at dusk, she finishes her day. She gets another meal—some watery soup and, if she’s lucky, some rice—and returns to her home. 

And then Bae gets to her real work.

She waits for the moon to go behind the clouds, then silently pulls on her cloak. She slips out of the front door, careful to close it quietly so the neighbors don’t hear. As she makes her way through the village, she sticks to the shadows and steals back to the forest.

But this time, she isn’t foraging for food—what she’s after is even more important. 

She finds the tree with the gnarled roots and scrapes away a thin layer of dirt. She pulls out the plastic bag and tucks it under her cloak, returning to her cabin as quietly as she left.

When she gets home, her housemates are waiting—they’ve already covered the windows with blankets and lit a small candle.

From the bag she dug up, she pulls out a book. She opens it and begins to read, in a voice barely above a whisper:

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

It’s another day in a North Korean church.

Arrested for God’s Word

Editor’s note: Bae is a real person in North Korea, but her story has been slightly changed to ensure she cannot be identified. Where changes or additions were made, they are based on other firsthand accounts of life in North Korea for Christians. 

Bae has not always lived in this village. She moved here after she and her husband were caught with a Bible. As soon as North Korean authorities realized the couple were Christians, their lives as they knew them were over.

Faith in Jesus can be a death sentence in North Korea. Open Doors estimates there are around 400,000 Christians in North Korea—and they are all secret Christians. If they’re caught, they’re lucky to escape with their lives. 

Bae and her husband were two of the “lucky” ones – alive, but sentenced to a lifetime of hardship and labor.  

They were put into the “hostile class” in North Korea, which meant they are on the lowest rung when it comes to government aid, work assignments or any other official assistance. The couple was taken to the remote village and told they had to do backbreaking agricultural labor. They know they’ll live in the village until they die. 

Though it might seem like a light sentence to be placed in a rural village, it’s not—the region is more like a prison than a farm. People like Bae are watched and the roads in and out of these towns are monitored and guarded. Escape is a very dangerous prospect, and daily life becomes limited to the small area surrounding the villages. 

Bae was able to escape one time. She made it over the border into China, where she was able to make contact with a safe house run by Open Doors partners. While there, she met with other Christians – a sweet experience of fellowship that would be impossible in North Korea.

The leaders of the safe house gave Bae food, medicine and a new Bible. She sang, prayed and read the Bible with her friends at the house, and she didn’t even have to be quiet. 

While she was in China, she was offered the chance to stay there – to live a freer life outside of the tight control back home. 

She refused. 

She returned home with the food, medicine and Bible she’d gotten, and she shared them with her secret group of believers. These gifts will sustain the faith of these Christians for years.  

‘This suffering is a blessing from our Father’

Recently, on another trip to China, Bae was able to get a letter to an Open Doors partner, thanking Open Doors and supporters like you for their prayers and gifts. We can’t tell you how she got it to us – doing so would put Bae in incredible danger. But it’s a powerful opportunity to hear from a Christian leader still inside North Korea. Here’s what she wrote – and some of it is meant for you:

Dear brother,

We are well and peaceful with Father’s grace and your concern.

We give thanks to the Father who is doing almighty works. I am so overwhelmed to write you this letter; we received the greatest love and concern which cannot be returned back. We live firmly in the suffering march, as always.

Whenever I open my eyes in the morning, I feel the presence of our Father.

Right now, we only receive materials from you—but we expect the day to come when we can return those back in God.

From the perspective of other people, our life of suffering must seem like a cursed life; however, this suffering is a blessing from our Father who allowed it in our life because it is a shortcut to the Father. He knows our suffering and listens to our prayers. We thank our Father who has done such great things to prepare life for us.

We, who receive His amazing grace, keenly realize and understand His words: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the Father.” That means any life that follows His words is blessed.

The thing I give thanks for the most is that Father God uses me to work as his servant. I desire to dedicate my life, until death, to glorify Him.

Brother, I have one request. Please send our gratitude and appreciation to those who sent these support materials to us. I bow to them with a thankful heart.

Let’s stay healthy and fight strongly for a gospelized North Korea.

Take care,

Bae, your sister in Christ

Open Doors works through secret networks in China to strengthen North Korean Christians like Bae who can leave North Korea and make it to China. Your support and prayers are vital to remind followers of Jesus they aren’t alone, even in places like North Korea. 

*Name changed to keep identity secure. 


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