North Korea: from a Glimmer of Hope to Deepening Darkness

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 519 | Wed 04 Mar 2009 

As the Russian federation tore apart in the early 1990s, Communist states such as North Korea that had relied heavily on Soviet patronage found their systems collapsing too. North Korea's trauma was further compounded in 1994 by the death of its 'Eternal Leader', Kim Il-sung, and the state descended into years of famine.  

During these years of chaos and desperation North Koreans bent on survival set up private markets. While 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il disapproved, endemic corruption amongst regime officials and security forces enabled the market system to survive. In 2002 Kim Jong-il accepted that he could not control the market activity and so he decriminalised it, enabling a new degree of openness. 

But the Kim regime was soon confronted with a major problem: South Korea! Just across the border is a Korea that is free and prosperous, whose prosperity cannot be written off as foreign or cultural. If Koreans north of the border could compare their backwardness, trauma and poverty to the modernity, opportunity and prosperity enjoyed by Koreans south of the border, then the North Korean regime would lose its legitimacy. For the Kim regime to survive, it needs to keep North Korea isolated and its enormous military loyal. By 2004 the regime was looking for ways to turn the clock back. Despite regression, in early 2008 there were still a number of positive steps being taken towards openness and Korean rapprochement. Hope was still alive. However, shaken by a series of catastrophes through 2008, the Kim regime has made a U-turn and is returning North Korea to Stalinism, isolation and darkness. This does not bode well for North Korea's severely persecuted Church.
(See the link below for more details on the persecution of the Church in North Korea.) 

North-South relations deteriorated through 2008 as a new government in South Korea refused to continue delivering unconditional aid to the North, insisting instead that aid be tied to disarmament and reform. As conditions have deteriorated, the Kim regime has moved to re-Stalinise the system and is forcing its citizens back into unprofitable mines and factories primarily for the purpose of indoctrination and surveillance. Crackdowns against markets, cell- phones and the spread of religion have been escalating. In late2008 the economy collapsed and the 'Dear Leader' (Kim Jong-il) suffered a stroke. To promote nationalism and support for the military, the belligerent rhetoric is being ratcheted up. Some time while South Korea and the US engage in their annual joint military exercises from 9 to 20 March, North Korea will test its longest- range missile (capable of reaching Alaska) under the cover of an alleged satellite deployment. Japan and the US have warned that they are ready to respond. Tensions are escalating. 

In North Korea Christians are regarded as political subversives because their worship of the Lord as God is contrary to the State cult that venerates the Kims as the divine saviours of Korea. For the 'crime' of Christianity, three generations of a family will be incarcerated in a prison labour camp where immense and inhumane cruelty and starvation guarantee a short, tortured life. Refugees have reported seeing village Christians publicly humiliated, beaten and executed for simply possessing a Bible. North Korea's great leap backwards is a devastating blow for the Church. But God is sovereign still. He has not abandoned his Church and he will have the last word on North Korea. 


* every North Korean secret and incarcerated believer: may God  their Father protect and deliver them; may Christ their Saviour  hear and answer their prayers; and may the Holy Spirit sustain  their faith, comfort them and bless their witness with  miraculous results 'abundantly more than all that we could ever  ask or think' (Ephesians 3:20).  

* our Sovereign, just and merciful God to deliver North Korea from  its captivity and restore its spiritual heritage. (In the early  20th Century the North Korean capital Pyongyang -- the  birthplace of the 1907 Korean revival -- was known as 'The  Jerusalem of the East'.) 

'And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job . . .  And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.' (Job 42:10 ESV) 





In North Korea all religion other than the veneration of the ruling Kims is criminal. Christians are executed or, along with three generations of their family, incarcerated in prison labour camps where they are cruelly worked, tortured and starved to death. After several years of tentative but positive steps towards openness and Korean rapprochement, the Kim regime has made a dramatic U-turn and is returning the northern state to Stalinism, escalating militarism and intensifying the isolation essential for regime survival. This is a crushing blow for the severely persecuted North Korean Church. Our Sovereign Lord is our only hope. We pray that he will sustain his Church and intervene in North Korea, restoring Pyongyang to its former glory as 'The Jerusalem of the East' -- for the glory of his name. 


For more details on persecution of the Church in North Korea see:
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
(USCIRF) 'A Prison Without Bars' March 2008


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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray specifically and regularly for religious liberty issues, and in particular to uphold the Church where it is suffering persecution.  

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissionerof the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.