North Korea

North Korea

World Watch List Rank 1
World Watch List Score 94/100
Leader Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un
Population 25.7 million I 300,000 Christians
Main Religion Atheism/traditional beliefs
Government Communist Dictatorship
WWL Rank in 2019 1
Persecution Level Extreme Persecution

North Korea has been ranked as the hardest country to live as a Christian since 2002. Christians face extreme levels of pressure and violence in all areas of life, even just owning a Bible is illegal. Many Christians memorise parts of the Bible and then destroy it. Others hide their Bibles, reading it when they’re sure they are alone.

All citizens are taught to worship Kim Jong-un from a very young age. Many Christians live as secret believers, and don’t even share their faith with their children or family. If Christians are discovered, they are sent to labour camps, tortured or even killed on the spot. Their families, considered guilty by association, share the same fate.

It is almost impossible for believers to gather and worship. The only visible churches are propaganda churches for foreigners to see on guided tours. But despite this, the underground church in North Korea is alive


"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:

  • Supplying persecuted believers with emergency relief aid (such as food, medicines, clothes)
  • Distributing books and other Christian materials
  • Training through radio broadcasting
  • Providing training and training materials to North Korean believers in China.


  • That God would comfort and strengthen His followers, especially those who suffer in prisons, labour camps and remote areas
  • For God to speak to Kim Jong-un, giving him a revelation of Jesus, the servant king
  • For Open Doors’ ministry among North Korean believers. Many North Korean spies are actively looking for believers inside the country. Please pray for God’s protection.





Hannah's story of faithfulness

20th Jun 2018

Found in Stories

Hannah Cho* was born just before the Korean War broke out in 1950.

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