Food shortages are devastating North Korea. As secret believers reach out to their neighbours – helped by your support – the government has launched a mobilisation campaign that many North Koreans are refusing to join.
North Koreans are being 'asked' to help with agricultural jobs to help alleviate the country's devastating food crisis (illustrative picture)
Secret believers in North Korea are selflessly reaching out to their neighbours as the country experiences devastating food shortages. The crisis is so severe that the authorities have begun a mobilisation campaign to get people farming – but many are avoiding participation, because food isn’t provided.
As the country nears the end of its planting season (its chief food source, rice, is planted in late spring and early summer), reports are leaking out about the severity of their food situation. The winter cold may be over, but the country is now facing a food shortage as supplies have been exhausted.
For Christians in the country, the devastating crisis adds to the dangers they already face as secret believers. The country is number one on the World Watch List, making it the hardest place in the world to be a follower of Jesus. If discovered, believers risk arrest, imprisonment and even immediate execution.
Open Doors supports North Korean Christians through secret networks in China, including the provision of food aid through safe houses for those able to cross the border. These can help a little fewer than 100 people at a time, but thanks to your support, fieldworkers are able to help people as they come and go – including those who return to North Korea where they continue to live as salt and light for Jesus.
“There are inspiring stories told to us that [North Korean] believers are helping their neighbours — sharing food, medicine and other resources they own, even though the food is not enough for even themselves,” says Brother Simon*, Open Doors coordinator for North Korea ministry.
“Secret believers are practising God’s love behind the scenes and thanking us for the help and prayer. All the glory to God who is feeding His children in this terrible time of starvation and poverty.”
In an attempt to restock food supplies, North Korea has launched a ‘rural mobilisation campaign’ that involves soldiers and non-farming civilians being ‘asked’ to do agricultural work. In reality, these campaigns are demands and refusal is not allowed under the North Korean regime.
"All the glory to God who is feeding His children in this terrible time of starvation and poverty" Brother Simon
And yet, more and more people are dodging participation in the campaign. The agricultural work is usually very difficult, involving long hours of hard labour, often on an empty stomach. Workers must provide their own meals, and simply can’t. Farms are experiencing a labour shortage, and many people have tried to avoid the work despite the authorities setting up checkpoints to catch people avoiding it.
However, many North Koreans take the risk. They are too hungry and don’t receive rations through either the farms or their own neighbourhood units. Every North Korean citizen is placed in a neighbourhood unit, which is responsible for monitoring its members, disseminating propaganda and distributing food coupons.
A new report from the BBC highlights how dire the current situation is in North Korea. It features a woman in Pyongyang who checked in on her neighbours. “We knocked on their door to give them water, but nobody answered,” she said. Her neighbours had starved to death at home.
The same report notes that the borders have remained closed since 2020, due to Covid-19 restrictions. This has led to tightening restrictions and more border surveillance for people trying to cross to China, where they can hope to gain access to lifesaving food and other aid.
In the meantime, food prices have skyrocketed and these border restrictions are hampering the black market. A kilogram of food can cost more than 5,000 North Korean won, which is the equivalent of about £5. A kilo of corn costs around £2. Given that the average salary for a North Korean is only 5,000-10,000 won per month, such meagre rations are making it incredibly difficult for many North Koreans to survive.
The North Korean government has announced that it is importing more rice from other countries, but many people do not benefit from this.
“According to up-to-date news from North Korean believers, the imported food was distributed primarily to the high-ranking government officials, then to the soldiers,” says Brother Simon. “Only a very small amount was released in the market for the ordinary people. This is why hunger is continuous throughout the country.”
Thank you for your continued prayers and support for North Korea and our brothers and sisters living in the country. This continues to be urgently needed. “Underground church believers are requesting lots of prayer, that they can endure this difficult time,” says Brother Simon. “Please pray for them and our ministry.”
*Name changed for security reasons
Come and meet Kim Sang-Hwa, and hear her story of faith, at two upcoming regional Standing Strong events in England – one in Leeds on 4 November and the other in Birmingham on 11 November. We'd love for you to join us!
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