|World Watch List Rank||World Watch List Score|
|Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un||25.4 million | 300,000 Christians|
|Atheism/traditional beliefs||Communist Dictatorship|
|WWL Rank in 2017||Persecution Level|
Once again, North Korea is ranked as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians, #1 on the World Watch List. In this totalitarian communist state, Christians are forced to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbours and often, even their own spouses and children. Due to ever-present surveillance, many pray with eyes open, and gathering for praise or fellowship is practically impossible. Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don't comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation. Those who attempt to flee to South Korea through China risk execution or life imprisonment, and those who stay behind often fare no better.
The family that has ruled North Korea for three generations are worshipped like gods, and any suggestion that there is a higher authority than the nation's leader, Kim Jong-un, is immediately crushed. Tens of thousands of Christians are incarcerated in horrific labour camps, and thousands more keep their faith in Christ a complete secret - often their own family members do not know of their faith.
"Every day was as if God was pouring out all ten plagues on us simultaneously. That's how hard it was. But God also comforted me and brought a secret fellowship into existence. Every Sunday we would gather in the toilets and pray."
This was life for Hea-Woo, a Christian woman who spent three years in a North Korean labour camp because of her faith in Jesus. She was eventually able to escape, but most are not so lucky. We estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in these camps; most will die there.
North Korea is ruled by Kim Jong-un, the third generation of the Kim dynasty who have ruled North Korea with an iron grip since 1948. The two ideologies used to govern the state are 'Juche', which points to man's self-sufficiency, and 'Kimilsungism', the god-like worship of the Kims; children are taught the name of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un's grandfather, before they are taught the names of their own parents.
Any suggestion that there could be a higher authority than the Kims is immediately crushed. North Korean citizens are constantly scrutinised by the Inminban, a neighbourhood watch system in which the leader writes reports on their neighbours, trying to work out if anyone is disloyal to the ruling regime.
Christians must keep their faith completely secret; most do not even tell their own children about their faith until they are older teenagers for fear that they may let something slip. If a Christian has a Bible, or part of one, it will be carefully hidden and only read when the believer is sure they are alone.
A social stratification system in North Korea called 'Songbun', similar to the Indian caste system, divides people into three main classes: the loyal, the wavering and the hostile. These are further divided into 51 subclasses; Christians are part of the 'hostile' class, with Protestant Christians being number 37 and Catholic Christians being number 39. If discovered, Christians face arrest, torture, imprisonment, and perhaps even public execution - they are considered spies and traitors of the nation, and are condemned for treason.
And yet, many have decided that knowing Jesus is worth the risks they face. The church in North Korea is not only surviving, but growing - and they have great hope for the future. One Christian has shared: "One day the borders will open and we will unite with the South Korean and the Chinese church to bring the gospel to some of the darkest places on this earth."
Your prayers and support make a real difference to believers in North Korea. One shared with us: "Whenever we faced difficult situations you supported our North Korean underground believers so that we could break through all difficulties with courage and spiritual power in Christ. We thank you and all supporters in Christ who encourage and support our believers. Your prayer and support help our believers to be ready for the battle at the frontier."
There have been raids against Christians and killings, but no details can be published for security reasons. Canadian-Korean pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was released from prison on 9 August 2017, after allegedly having confessed his guilt. Pastor Dong-cheol Kim, however, is still detained in North Korea. Two Korean-American Christians and lecturers at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), Tony Kim and Hak-song Kim, were arrested in April and May 2017 respectively. North Korea accused them of behavior against the regime. In a change of hiring policy1, PUST is now reportedly looking for non-American staff.
Open Doors' goal has always been to 'strengthen what remains and is about to die' (Revelation 3:2). This verse is especially relevant to the North Korean Church. Without our support, many Christians would starve to death. Open Doors works to support the church in North Korea by: