News North Korea | 13 May 2024

Pray! North Korean Christians face desperate conditions


Show: true / Country: North Korea / North Korea

As winter comes to a close in North Korea, Christians living there have contacted Open Doors—and they paint a bleak picture. 

The simplicity of the need is haunting: “We lack everything,” one secret church leader says. 

“While the government pushes the people to become more self-sufficient, we see the gap between rich and poor widen,” says another believer in North Korea, which is ranked No. 1 on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List.

“The city people are better off than those who live in the countryside. Fortunately, there are black markets. They are our lifeline, but the authorities nowadays strictly control them [making it more difficult to buy food at an affordable price]. Many lack food, especially since wintertime.” 

Another believer reports that North Korea authorities are confiscating various devices, along with goods such as cosmetics, hard drives and all kinds of media. “They are searching for [anything] that could originate in South Korea,” the Christian explains. “We also notice a stricter surveillance of people who have a family member who fled from the country. We all have to be more cautious. If you are doing one thing wrong or own the wrong magazine or equipment, you will be banished to a remote region or be imprisoned.” 

‘Fire up the heater … once a day’ 

The winter left many of God’s people in North Korea in already desperate situations. “We are in a serious financial crisis,” an underground church leader says. “During this wintertime, many people were starving and freezing.” 

He describes how the North Korean heating system works. It’s called ondol and involves a method where heat from a wood fire is channeled through passages under the floor of the house. The fire itself is typically located in an external structure or an attached kitchen. The heat produced by the fire travels through these underfloor channels, warming the stones and the floor above. This radiant heat from the floor then warms the entire room. 
“Many hardly have any firewood, and they can only fire up the ondol heating system once a day,” the leader says. 

Additionally, many citizens, including Christians, fear a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus. While no one knows for sure how bad the pandemic was for North Koreans, most observers believe that it was far worse than what the government said publicly—especially because the country is home to one of the world’s worst healthcare systems. A resurgence of the virus could have significant impact in a place where medical care is lacking or unavailable. 

“In one particular area, many civilians are suffering from ‘seasonal diseases,’” a North Korean Christian told Open Doors. “They have a headache, sore muscles, cough, etc. Especially the old and the children are really suffering. Our disease control center claims that these illnesses are simply contagious cold and flu. But it may as well be COVID. The symptoms are the same, and we know people are dying.” 

The lack of medicine poses a huge problem. “There are not medicines, or people can’t afford them,” this believer says. “We resort to traditional methods, such as gargling with salt water, drinking ginger tea, or boiling water with the root of green onion.” 

Other people are so desperate that they go in a different direction: they buy drugs. The number of methamphetamine users has been increasing for years in North Korea. “Please pray that we will receive proper medicines,” says the church leader. 

Hope and strength in Christ 

Open Doors wanted to know what daily life has been like for North Korean Christians, and they gave us a hard and realistic look. But we also asked them what gives them hope and strength. And they told us that they find both in Jesus Christ. 

“We thank God for his grace and mercy, to help and provide for our believers,” says one Christian. “We step forward to victorious life in the Lord, with your love and concern. We are proud of being church believers, and we keep the faith together in us.” 

This is a remarkable witness and testimony from those living in unthinkable circumstances in a place where being found out as a Christian can result in imprisonment or even death. 

As winter closes and the situation grows desperate, please remember your North Korean family in prayer. Pray that: 

  • North Korean Christians will be able to find food and heat, and that they would not get sick in the current health crisis 
  • Believers would know they are being prayed for by people all over the world 
  • God would change the heart of North Korea ruler Kim Jong Un and other North Korean leaders, that they would see the truth of Jesus’ hope and love 
  • North Korean believers would be able to get to Open Doors’ safe houses in China, where they can rest and receive food, medicine and training to strengthen them and their faith 
  • The underground church would be able to continue standing strong in God’s grace 

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