North Korea (MNN) — When you hear the words, concentration camp, what comes to mind? Walking skeletons? Piles of dead bodies? You might think these camps ended with World War II, but they're all over North Korea.
"On the one hand, it is amazing that the international community continues to turn a blind eye to this reality," said Eric Foley with Seoul USA. "On the other hand, it is equally amazing that the North Korean underground church considers this their mission field."
Would you be able to see conditions like torture and starvation as a testing ground for your faith? North Korean Christians do. They don't beg believers on the outside for freedom or for action against their Communist government.
"What the North Korean Church says is, 'Pray that we will be found faithful in every circumstance in which the Lord places us,'" said Foley.
In These Are The Generations (a book highlighting the sufferings of a North Korean Christian family), a former inmate describes North Korean gulags as "the best seminary training a Christian can get."
"He thinks of the North Korean concentration camps as…the gates of Hell," said Foley. "And they claim that promise that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the advance of Christians on a mission."
North Korea tops Open Doors USA's World Watch list, a compilation of 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is worst.
Why does it rank over regions like the Islamic Middle East and communist China? Crimes in these areas usually consist of evangelism or unregistered church activity, but in North Korea, the offense is Christianity.
"The crime is simply being Christian," Foley said. Any display can be deadly. "Everything from bowing your head to possessing a Bible, all of those things are considered the highest offense against the State. All of them will land you in a concentration camp."
Of the estimated 100,000 believers in North Korea, a third of them are detained in concentration camps. But, Foley says, they are free in Christ.
"There is a difference between freedom of religion and freedom in Christ," he said. "And freedom in Christ, as Mr. Bae points out in the book, can't be taken away by the government. Freedom in Christ exists in as pure a form in North Korea as it does in the United States.
"Now, the cost of being a believer," he adds, "is much higher."
2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Foley questioned the reliance of many western believers on freedom of religion instead of spiritual freedom in Christ.
"If freedom of religion were taken away from us, would we still experience the same freedom in Christ?" Foley asked. "The story of Mr. Bae's family would tell us, 'Yes that is still possible.'"