Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions What It’s Like to Follow Jesus in North Korea

What It’s Like to Follow Jesus in North Korea

Believers in North Korea face a pervasive, constant fear that friends, acquaintances, and even family members will report their religious activities to the inminban. There are stories of families who defected together, only to discover that both husband and wife were following Jesus in secret even from each other. The state’s surveillance power comes into the home and separates even husband and wife.

Many North Korean believers face arbitrary detention, sometimes for life

Of the 300,000 believers in North Korea, nearly one-quarter are in prison for their faith.

When the North Korean authorities find prohibited religious materials or suspect a person of being a practicing Christian, that person is sent immediately to prison. This prison will include interrogations under torture and solitary confinement. Secret believers will be asked repeatedly about any suspected religious activity and religious material found. Many hide their faith; those who confess to be followers of Jesus will be sent to the kwanliso, the notorious North Korean political prison camps.[4]

Even those who manage to hide their faith from the authorities are not immediately freed. Those found by a judge to be “not guilty” of being a Christian in North Korea will be sent to a re-education camp for a period of years. These camps “re-educate” their residents through hard labor of 12 hours per day, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and dehumanizing living conditions. On the way to the re-education camp, the government will require the prisoner to be divorced by his or her spouse, leaving the prisoner alone and totally isolated. After a number of years, these prisoners have the opportunity to be released.

Secret churches exist even in these re-education camps, as prisoners struggle to follow Jesus even in these horrible conditions. Even there, God is at work.

Most of those found “guilty” of being practicing Christians will never be seen again. They are sent to one of North Korea’s kwanliso, maximum security political prison camps where imprisonment is for life under horrific and brutal conditions. Physical abuse and sexual assault by prison guards are routine, a result of the unchecked power held by prison guards. Death from summary executions and torture are everyday occurrences, as are death from starvation, disease from poor sanitation, and forced labor.[5]

Even in the kwanliso, believers gather in secret churches, holding on to their faith even as many know they will never be released. God strengthens and upholds these believers as they seek to live faithfully for God.

Prayer and advocacy to facilitate change for the Christian in North Korea

Living in the comfort and freedom of the West, these stories are almost impossible to imagine. It’s difficult to believe it is possible there is a place on earth like this. But these stories are true.

What are we to do with this information about being a Christian in North Korea?

  1. We should pray fervently and specifically for the North Korean church—for protection of believers, and for comfort and courage for those imprisoned. But we should also pray for the closure of these camps and for the end of the Kim regime as we know it, which has perpetrated unimaginable crimes against humanity. Let us never forget our brothers and sisters in North Korea. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.
  2. We should insist that our elected officials prioritize human rights and religious freedom among the other security considerations of our foreign policy. For those of us who are citizens of the United States, we have the gift of a voice and access to elected officials who can in turn influence the foreign policy of the world’s lone superpower. Let us use our voices to advocate for those whose voices have been silenced by the brutal North Korean regime.

We know that a day is coming when Jesus will wipe every tear from every eye. Until then, let us work toward a vision where justice and righteousness are found on earth, as they are in heaven.

Policy intern Josie Peery contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine


  1. ^ “Korea: Still divided 70 years on,” World Watch Monitor, https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2015/08/korea-still-divided-70-years-on/.
  2. ^ 1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV
  3. ^ Open Doors, Final World Watch List 2019 North Korea Country Dossier, December 2018, available at https://www.opendoorsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/North-Korea-FINAL-WWL-2019-DOSSIER-December-2018.pdf.
  4. ^ Lindy Lowry, “Naked, Shaved and Stripped of Her Name—Life in a North Korean Prison,” Open Doors USA, Feb. 7, 2019, https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/naked-shaved-and-stripped-of-her-name-life-in-a-north-korean-prison/.
  5. ^ U.S. Department of State, “People’s Republic of Korea,” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, 6, available at https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/277333.pdf.

This article originally appeared here.