A lonely Christmas for Christians in North Korea

|PIC2|For a moment, it is silent in a darkened room. Then the oldest of four men speaks. He knows that he must talk quietly, but his heart is 'breaking' as his lips begin to move.

"Lord, we have sinned, because we have bowed before the image of Kim Il-sung. And Lord, our parents sinned too, because they bowed before the idols of the Japanese. Lord, forgive us!

The people of Israel had to remain in the desert for 40 years when they made a golden calf, but we ... we have been suffering for more than 50 years now. When will it be enough, Lord? When may we again open the churches of our forebears?" The talking stops. The sound of sobbing men fills the small, bare living room.

There are no fairy lights, no Christmas dinner, or, any kind of carol service for the followers of Jesus Christ in North Korea at Christmas. In fact, the scarcity of any kind of electrical light, food or joy leaves vast swathes of this country shrouded in darkness, hunger and gloom most days of the year. Christmas day in North Korea is like any other.

The scene on the streets of the capital Pyongyang symbolises the emptiness of the existence. Here, a 21 metre high statue of Kim Il-sung dominates the city. As people with tense, expressionless faces go about their business, they have to bow each time they pass, before continuing their way through the city, with its magnificent monuments, well-kept parks and dilapidated flats.

The only official births celebrated nationally are that of deceased former leader, Kim Il-sung, and the current leader, his son Kim Jong-il. Sculptures and portraits of Kim Il-sung who ruled over North Korea from 1948 until his death in 1972, are on display everywhere, pervading offices, factories, homes and streets. North Koreans and tourists alike are expected to bow to these idols.

Brother Simon, who co-ordinates the work of Open Doors from a secret location in China says, "Of course Christians reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas but being a Christian in North Korea is a lonely business."

Church service

Simon describes how some Christians in North Korea try and celebrate Christmas in the same way they try to commemorate Sunday. "For example, a Christian will sit on a park bench. Another Christian will come and sit beside him. Sometimes it is dangerous even to speak to one another, but just to know they are both Christians is enough. If no one is around, they may be able to share a memorised Bible verse or prayer request.

|PIC2|Simon explains that "Christmas is mainly celebrated in the heart of the Christian... although sometimes it is possible to hold a meeting in remote areas. Occasionally, it may also be possible for Christians to go unobtrusively into the mountains and to hold a 'service' at a secret location with as many as 60 or 70 believers."


Although parents cannot be open about their faith in front of their children they still do their best to pass on God's truths. Simon explains, "They will tell them stories from the Bible but never mention 'God' or 'Jesus'.

Brother Simon estimates there are at least 200,000 and maybe even as many as half a million underground Christians. At least 70,000 of these Christians are imprisoned for their faith in political prison camps, which few survive.

Despite all this, the Church is growing. This is mainly due to refugees who come to faith in China and then return. One such woman is Dae. She was nineteen when she left her country to escape hunger and misery. Sadly, in China like many North Korean women she was sexually abused by various men and ended up a physical and psychological wreck, until a Chinese Christian woman started to take care of her. As Dae listened to her, she slowly opened up to God's Word and was physically and spiritually healed as she came to faith.

Equally distressing is the story of 11 year-old Jong Cheol. After finding faith in China, Jong and his friends were arrested by the Chinese police and mercilessly sent back to North Korea. After brutal treatment by the Korean authorities Jong was executed, simply for being a Christian.


At Christmas, we remember how God's Son came to the world over two thousand years ago. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, there is still hope for North Korea. This hope is living in countless people who are prepared - if necessary this Christmas - to give their lives for their Lord. Like the 11 year-old Jong Cheol, they want to remain faithful to their Redeemer until death.