North Korea (MNN) — A new report on the torture and murder of Christians in North Korea seeks to shed light on the persecution crisis. But the truth can get muddied by unconfirmed accounts and provocative stories.
According to Christian Today, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide report titled Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea gives gruesome details about North Korean Christians killed for their faith, including death by steamroller.
Emily Fuentes with Open Doors USA says, “This report’s talking about some pretty graphic details about the death of some Christians there through hanging and steamrolling. And while Open Doors cannot confirm or deny this particular story, we do know that the persecution of Christians in North Korea is the worst country in the world.”
Another one of our sources, a ministry partner* with The Voice of the Martyrs working with the North Korean underground church, shared this with us:
“That steamroller myth just won’t die, unfortunately. It gets more elaborate each time it comes up. But no, there’s no basis for it in fact. But it sure does get repeated often. It keeps getting attributed to different people and different places, and it’s been around since the early 1990’s. Everyone likes the story, but it’s not real. There are a few hints as to why. First, NK has no pastors. Second, NK Christians don’t gather together in congregations. Third, the NK government doesn’t do public execution of Christians because it causes Christianity to spread.”
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater…
Either way, Fuentes reminds us the plight of North Korean Christians is still very real.
“For 14 years, we’ve ranked North Korea as the top persecutor of Christians [in Open Doors’ World Watch List], and it’s because there have been graphic acts of violence against Christians. It’s because Christians are particularly targeted by the government because this religion is seen as a direct conflict against worshiping, essentially, or fully dedicating the North Koreans themselves to the Kim dynasty.
“There have been up to 80 [North Korean Christians] killed at a time in recent years just for the act of owning a Bible. Many are sent to horrible labor camps that are just as bad as World War II Nazi Germany camps. So it’s a horrific place to be a Christian and horrible things like this can happen even though we can’t confirm this particular story.”
The Germans were shocked when they learned of the gas chambers and Nazi concentration camps, and the world was horrified to discover mass graves of those murdered by Saddam Hussein. Just so, the reports that are confirmed coming out of North Korea about labor camps and killings of believers are still horrendous.
“With North Korea, I think we’re finding sadly that many things are possible, just like with ISIS. People who have an aversion to the Gospel in such a strong way that they take it out on these believers, it’s horrible to think about.”
Subtle permeation of the Gospel
If North Korea is such an ironclad country against the penetration of the outside world, how does the Gospel even get through to the North Korean people?
Fuentes explains, “Initially, back in the 1800’s when the Gospel was first brought there, it was a hermit kingdom. It was so closed off and it was really hard for missionaries to break through. So it’s always had this historical presence of being a very difficult place for the Gospel to emerge. However, even though it was a hermit kingdom, it caught on like rapid fire among people [who] started believing in God.
“So the remnants of those who knew Christ even after the Korean War are holding on and still believing and finding ways to share the Gospel in creative ways. Sometimes it’s through passing notes in prison, sometimes it’s through stories that have biblical themes with their kids, and then eventually when they’re ready they share the Gospel message. God is allowing it to happen and He’s allowing it to flourish, and there’s just been some amazing miracles throughout the years to allow the Gospel to continue even in such a closed country.”
One thing you can do — and it’s a pretty radical suggestion — is to pray…for the persecutors.
Fuentes says those intercessions matter, because they are hearing stories from the field of radical conversions where those hunting Christians end up finding Jesus Christ.
“We’re seeing Saul-to-Paul conversions happening all the time throughout the world, so even in places where there is horrific persecution like North Korea or some of the Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries and even Africa where Islamic extremist groups like ISIS are popping up, God is still at work. And that is a powerful reminder of the importance of our prayers.”
Fuentes shares, “Recently, a story with someone who was an Islamic extremist, who was about to behead a Christian, and the Christian was reminded of the verse that not one hair will fall from your head if God doesn’t will it, and he shared that passage with the man who was about to behead him. The man started crying and couldn’t go through with it. This Christian prayed with him and eventually this persecutor became a believer.”
Persistence in prayer
And then, of course, we are also reminded to never give up coming to the Lord in prayer for our North Korean brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Be praying for Christians in North Korea who have to endure a lot…. Christians are dealing with so much on a daily basis. They can’t safely share the Gospel even with their own families for fear of putting themselves and up to three generations at risk for their faith. So it’s vital that we be lifting our brothers and sisters up in prayer on a daily basis.”
*Name withheld for security reasons