A veteran of more than 100 missions into North Korea to provide ministry to Christians and non-Christians alike says the first thing to do in any meeting there is to close and cover all the windows and send the children outside.
The description of the persecution under which North Korean Christians suffer comes from “Roli,” whose story was reported by The Voice of the Martyrs, a worldwide ministry that directs its aid to members of the persecuted Christian church.
That organization earlier reported on the faith of a teen-ager who was caught teaching about Christ, and died in a North Korean prison camp to leave behind a witness that continues there even today. It also reported on the stunning change in a prison warden who watched that teen’s final days and sought out what made the teen strong.
“When we gather together we close all of the windows and all of the blinds,” Roli described. “We don’t have curtains over there but somehow we cover up the windows and we send all of the children outside. You cannot gather with many people … maybe three or four.
“We pray together, we sing praises, and then we read John 3:16-18. We also read I Corinthians 1:18-26. We talk from Genesis. We say that man was created from dust, so we have to believe in Jesus to go to heaven.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom repeatedly has recommended that the U.S. Department of State list North Korea among its “countries of particular concern” for its “egregious and systematic human rights violations” including policies that disallow any Christian faith.
There are estimates of tens thousands of Christians detained in prison camps just for their faith. Sometimes entire families are imprisoned because of a statement from just one member, reports said.
Roli knows the risks are high: four of her Christian friends so far have been executed because of their witness. She was arrested herself, and has spent time in those prison camps.
“I once gave one Bible to four people,” she said. “Later, while I was in prison one of the four came in and said, ‘You are giving out Bibles.’ I told them, ‘Yes, I am a believer. I brought this book so we could read it together.’”
But those questioning her thought she was a foreign spy, and demanded that she say the Lord’s Prayer to prove her identity.
“I did a lot of stuttering,” Roli said. “I made a lot of mistakes. I was a little nervous.”
But four days later, she was released with a warning not to come back.
“When I first started this work I was nervous and I would be afraid and when I came back I would say, ‘This is dangerous work’ and ‘I am not going to do it anymore.’ But when I think of the people in North Korea I change my mind and I decide to go back again,” she said.
Roli’s trips into North Korea, where she’s developed an extensive network of house meeting locations, have shown her that no level of repression will kill the Christian spirit.
“People are less afraid. (Christians) are becoming bolder to share the gospel. They know Kim Il Sung is not the one that has saved them and not the one who is feeding them. They are starting to believe in God. Many people are coming to faith.”
She would love to talk to the children, too, but cannot, yet.
Before sharing any witness in a home she insists the children are sent outside.
“A slip of the tongue at school, and children could accidentally inform on their own parents,” the report said. “The parents could be arrested, or worse. Parents consider very carefully when their children can be trusted to know that their parents are Christians, traitorous outlaws in the eyes of their government.”
Voice of the Martyrs is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.
He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.