North Korea (MNN) — Most people in North Korea will likely celebrate the 68th birthday of North Korean "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il tomorrow with parades, cultural performances and other special events.
February 16 is a national holiday. It is considered the most important date in North Korea along with April 15, which is the day on which Kim Jong Il's father Kim Il-Sung was born.
While Kim Jong-Il is being showered with expensive gifts, the North Korean people are being tortured by their government as two forced combat campaigns of 150 days and 100 days are continuing, according to Open Doors. In these periods, almost every citizen has to work actively for the state or face imprisonment. Christians are even under more scrutiny during these combat campaigns.
It's illegal to be a Christian in North Korea, says Paul Estabrooks with Open Doors. "The house churches, especially in villages where they receive opposition, are made up almost only of immediate family members. They don't sing because they can't reveal the fact that they're worshipping together."
Estabrooks says North Korea is the most difficult area in which they work. Despite that, he says they do have a network of believers there. "These networks do have some communication with one another, which lead our co-workers to estimate that there are about 400,000 Christians in North Korea. Up to a quarter of them are in labor camps because when it is discovered that someone is a Christian there, he is considered a traitor."
In addition, the North Korean people are suffering even more because of sky-rocketing inflation and the shortage of daily necessities. Nationwide, more and more people are starving to death. In Hwanghae province, there are increasing numbers of homeless children and people dying of starvation. The situation in Hamgyung province is so severe that the local authorities are encouraging its people to receive assistance through their relatives in China, according to Open Doors.
A North Korean Christian said: "In Hwanghae province, it's normal to see children lying dead on the street."
At the end of November 2009, the government introduced a new currency as part of its economic plan to have total control over a nationwide market system. North Korea is in a state of disorder due to the cancellation of the old currency and introduction of the new currency. During this period, some goods were banned from going into North Korea.
"Please join with me in praying for those Christians who are not only facing starvation but also facing imprisonment or death because they are believers in Jesus Christ," says Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. "I believe 2010 will be a critical year for North Korea. The Christians there are asking us not to pray for their safety but for continued strength, boldness for Christ and outreach to the poor and hungry."
A recent letter from a North Korean Christian read in part: "2 Corinthians 6: 9-10 says, 'Known, yet regarded as imposters; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.' I believe that we are blessed as Christians in this world and in this period of time."
Key North Korean Facts:
• An estimated 400,000 Christians practice their faith in underground networks in North Korea. There is a lack of Bibles and Christian teaching which can lead to false doctrines and weak foundations for these Christians.
• North Korea is the No. 1 persecutor of Christians, according to the Open Doors World Watch List which was released last month. It marks the country's eighth straight year at No. 1.
• Christians are viewed as "a danger to society" or "spies of the traitorous West."
• The proclamation of the Gospel is strictly forbidden in North Korea.
• There are a few state churches used only to convince outsiders of the "freedom of religion" in the country. Only selected citizens take part in these services.
• Over 50,000 Christians are in prison camps because of their faith. People rarely get out alive.
• North Korean authorities increased surveillance of Christians in 2009 to expose all underground church members; they are conducting random house searches.
• The Christians in North Korea have started a prayer campaign to reach more of their countrymen with the Gospel.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Web site at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.