How many Christians are there in North Korea?
Open Doors estimates that there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea, from a population of 25.7 million. It’s very difficult to know exactly how many believers live in North Korea because they must keep their faith completely secret.
From that 300,000, Open Doors estimates that 50,000-70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in terrible labour camps for their faith. It is unlikely that they will ever be able to leave.
Why are Christians persecuted in North Korea?
Anybody who believes in a higher authority than the dictatorial Kim family is considered an enemy of the state. Kim Jong-un and his family are worshipped as gods, and posters of Kim Jong-Un must be hung in all homes and schools. Followers of any faith are at great risk of being killed or imprisoned as political criminals – and, if discovered, their families are imprisoned too.
“Thanks to your support, the secret believers experience that God loves them and provides in everything they need. What you do is so important for their survival.” Kim Sang-Hwa, North Korea
What’s life like for Christians in North Korea?
North Korea has been at the top of the World Watch List since 2002. It’s still the most dangerous place in the world to follow Jesus. Many believers have to keep their faith secret even from their own families – Kim Sang-Hwa didn’t realise her parents were Christians until she found their hidden Bible when she was 12.
“I threw the book across the room. I had shivers throughout my body. And I was so very afraid. I thought: ‘Wow, we’re all dead now.’”
Terrified, she put the Bible back where she’d found it. Sang-Hwa was left with a tremendously difficult choice. Should she do her ‘patriotic duty’ and tell the police, or should she find out more about Christianity from her parents – and risk her own life? Thankfully she chose the latter, and made the courageous decision to follow Christ. Now she lives in a neighbouring country, but there is evidence that North Korean spies are sent into these countries to kidnap and kill refugees and those working with them, particularly Christians.
It’s difficult to overstate the reach of North Korean authorities and the obedience and leader-worship they demand. Police raids to identify and arrest citizens with ‘deviating thoughts’ have increased, and the whole country is deliberately controlled through an atmosphere of intense fear. And yet, despite all this, the church in North Korea is not only surviving but growing! 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."
Since the beginning of 2020 there have been added challenges – not least Covid-19. There are no tests or medicines. Markets have closed, and if they are open, there is little food to buy and prices have quadrupled. It costs a couple of months’ salary to buy a kilogram of rice. Alongside this, there has been heavy rainfall, mudslides and a heatwave. Many people have been resorting to criminal acts, just to survive.
*Name changed for security reasons
How can I help North Korean Christians?
The scale of the persecution in North Korea can make those of us in the West feel hopeless. How can it possibly change? But we have a powerful and sovereign God, and we know that He uses all the gifts and prayers that Open Doors supporters offer. So please keep praying and supporting our brothers and sisters in the world’s most dangerous country to be a Christian. They know that choosing Jesus is worth the cost. And together we can help carry the burden.
Open Doors secret workers are keeping 90,000 North Korean believers alive with vital food and aid through its networks in China, as well as providing Bibles, broadcasting Christian radio programmes and running safe houses at the Chinese border for those who are able to escape.
Lord, we can barely imagine what it’s like to follow You in a country so oppressive as North Korea – but thank You that You are sovereign and victorious despite this. Please continue to grow Your church and give solace to Christians who are in prison, courage to those who are secret believers and protection to Open Doors secret workers providing Bibles and vital support. Break the power of evil in North Korea, we pray.