North Korea (ODM/MNN) — North Korea's Kim Jung-un has been spending a lot of time burnishing his image.
The seeming openness and less hostile overtures purveyed under his control had human rights observers wondering if a Burmese-like makeover was in the offing. Recent reports indicate the "change" may be mere window dressing. The government is actually cracking down on Christians.
Paul Estabrooks is a minister-at-large for Open Doors. "Only half of the people who tried to leave the country last year were successful in doing that, compared with previous years. "
There are reports of spies following people in China and targeting those Christians who help North Koreans. Similar reports indicate new converts being tracked from China back into North Korea and dealt with. Sadly, the reports released on January 18 confirmed that story once again. "Our co-workers just today have reported to us that they have definite confirmation on the deaths of two Christians in North Korea at the hands of the government."
Ironically, both had escaped North Korea and gone to China. "North Koreans go to China to find help, most often just to improve their physical situation, their living conditions, etc. Many of them find Jesus and become followers of Jesus, and they want to go back."
According to the ministry that serves persecuted Christians worldwide, one Christian died in one of North Korea's notorious labor camps. Estabrooks explains, "In the first case, this man went back voluntarily and began to share his faith quite extensively within the country. Ultimately, he was informed on, arrested, and put in prison." Open Doors contacts followed the case to the labor camps, where–under a regime of hard labor, little food, and torture–he died.
Estabrooks goes on, "The second situation, which we've learned today, was a Christian going back to China for Bible training and was killed by a border guard as he tried to cross the river.
"He was very excited about his new faith and wanted to share the Gospel with his family," says an Open Doors worker. "He wanted to come back to China to study the Bible more so he could explain the Christian faith better to his family. It is heartbreaking that he was killed. I cannot stop thinking: 'If only he had arrived a little later at the border river, the guard would not have seen and shot him. He could still be alive today.'"
Open Doors has confirmed both deaths through several sources, which cannot be mentioned for security reasons. When asked if the penalties for sharing their faith act as deterrents, Estabrooks responded, "When Christians go back to North Korea, they become the greatest communicators of the Gospel that you can have. I mean, these are human beings whose lives have been changed and whose outlook on life has changed dramatically, and they want to share it with others. So the Gospel still goes forward in this land."
The Open Doors worker adds, "We are devastated to hear about these murders. We know Christians die for their faith almost every day in North Korea, but it is still hard to deal with."
North Korea has been No. 1 on Open Doors' World Watch List for the past 11 years. Nowhere else in the world is the persecution of Christians so intense. Even the possession of a Bible is enough to be killed or sent to a labor camp for life with your family.
The 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in North Korea have to profess their faith in secret. Approximately 50,000 to 70,000 Christians live, work, and ultimately die in one of the horrible concentration camps.
Through its networks, Open Doors strengthens persecuted Christians in North Korea. Open Doors also ministers to refugees who flee to China because of hunger or political persecution. Estabrooks urges you to "pray for their boldness, for their walk with the Lord, that they can continue and WILL continue and therefore overflow into the lives of other people."
Christians are persecuted for their faith in at least 60 countries worldwide. They suffer interrogation, arrest, and even death in some of the most dangerous and restrictive countries in the world. For 58 years, Open Doors has supported and strengthened believers worldwide through the Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, and prayer and presence ministry.