In a nation where being a Christian can bring the death penalty for the “offender” and his entire family, where tens of thousands of Christians are held in terminal prison camps, and the populace is taught to revere its dictator as a god, there will be martyrdom for Christians on Christmas Day, according to an international ministry.
“Just like on other days of the year, at Christmas time there will be Christians who perish in the death camps of North Korea, ranked No. 1 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the greatest persecution,” said a spokesman for the group.
Reports of the execution of Christians in North Korea circulate routinely, sometimes for an offense no worse than having a Bible.
“The state is working hard to wipe out Christianity,” said Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra.
“Nowhere in the world is such a high price paid as in this country with its tyrannical regime,” he said.
Dykstra released a statement on the “celebration” in North Korea of Christmas, as an observance of the birth of Christ one of Christianity’s most significant dates.
“No bright lights, no Christmas dinner and not even a Christmas Eve service for the followers of Jesus Christ,” will be on tap for the holiday.
“This Christmas – just like any other day in the year – there are no festive lights in the streets of Pyongyang. The city is largely shrouded in darkness. North Korea is the only country in the world where the Cold War is not yet over, and one of the few countries in which it is not permitted to celebrate Christmas at all,” he said.
But even under such repression, “Christians find ways to celebrate Christmas,” he said.
Confirmation comes from “Brother Simon,” who coordinates the work of Open Doors from a secret location.
“But, of course, Christians do reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Only they can’t just go along to church to sing or listen to a sermon. They can’t even visit one another to read the Bible together. Being a Christian in North Korea is very lonely.”
He said most often Christians gather in groups of only two, trying to keep underneath the social radar that alerts authorities to groups that meet. Only sporadically, and in secret locations, do numbers higher than that assemble.
“For example (on an ordinary Sunday), a Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it is dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough. If there is no one around, they may be able to share a Bible verse which they have learned by heart and briefly say something about it. They also share prayer topics with each other. Then they leave one another and go and look for Christians in some other part of their town. This continues throughout Sunday. A cell group usually consists of fewer than 20 Christians who encourage and strengthen one another in this way. Besides this, there are one-to-one meetings in people’s homes,” Simon said.
It’s similar with Christmas.
“Christmas is mainly celebrated in the heart of the Christian,” said Simon. “Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real gathering. For fear of retribution it is necessary to keep your faith hidden from the neighbors. It is sometimes possible to hold a meeting in remote areas with a group of 10 to 20 people. Very occasionally, it is possible for Christians to go unobtrusively into the mountains and to hold a ‘service’ at a secret location. Then there might be as many as 60 or 70 North Koreans gathered together.”
But he noted that like any other day of the year, there will be those martyred for their faith on Christmas Day.
This repression, however, is proving unsuccessful at halting the church’s growth, he confirmed. “The church is growing,” he said, based on information from his networks of sources, and largely is due to refugees who have fled North Korea, but come to Christ in the relatively free society of China, and return to their homeland as missionaries.
WND previously reported on the escape of a North Korean man from the bondage of that nation’s dictatorship, who reported many North Koreans believe dictator Kim Jong-il actually is a god.
The Christian, now living in South Korea, was identified only as Mr. Kim. He told Voice of the Martyrs that Kim Jong-il, and his late father Kim Il Sung, both are portrayed as gods.
“All North Koreans really believe that Kim Il Sung is a god. He [hid] the bad things he had done, to preserve his godlike status to the people. I think 70 to 80 percent of what is said about Kim Il Sung is similar to the Bible,” he told the ministry, for which he also recorded himself singing .
Mr. Kim sings “Brightly beams, Our Father’s mercy.”
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While comprehensive information about Kim Jong-il’s present rule in North Korea is hard to obtain because of the absolute dictatorship that exists, anecdotal evidence abounds about his cruelty and excesses.
For example, Camp 22, the nation’s largest concentration camp can hold up to 50,000 men, women and children accused of political “crimes,” while reports of atrocities such as the rampant murder of babies born to inmates are supported by witnesses.
Meanwhile, his expensive tastes have become known internationally. Reuters reported, “No one enjoys luxury goods more than paramount leader Kim Jong-il, who boasts the country’s finest wine cellar with space for 10,000 bottles. … His annual purchases of Hennessy cognac reportedly total to $700,000, while the average North Korean earns the rough estimate equivalent of $900 per year.”
Mr. Kim said while growing up he had no real knowledge of religion, and had not even heard about Christianity. He had seen filmed representations of Christmas parties but had no idea they were related to Jesus.
“We were taught that religion is the opium of the people, and that pastors were spies of South Korea, trying to bring imperialism to North Korea. I was taught that religion was bad and school text books reinforced this idea, explaining that people from other countries built the hospitals, schools and did all kinds of good deeds for North Korea in order to spy,” he said.
Then, like others, he went to visit relatives in China as a college student during 1998, and was shocked.
“The conditions overall were better in China, but one thing I really noticed was that people were energetic and had dreams. In North Korea, even college students were depressed and under a lot of pressure. When I returned to North Korea, I couldn’t forget the faces of those in China,” he said.
He went back to China, “escaped” is how he described it, just a few months later.
“I had heard if you go to churches the members would help. That’s why I went to a church,” he said. There he first got financial and other help.
At that company, he was exposed to worship services morning and night.
“I spent one and a half years studying the Bible, underlining passages and taking notes,” he said. “I really focused on studying the Bible, and this was the time that I became a Christian.”
Son Jong Hoon and his brother, Son Jong Nam, who has been condemned to execution in North Korea for being a Christian (Voice of the Martyrs photo)
An international campaign was launched by the Voice of the Martyrs to generate worldwide pressure on North Korean officials who have ordered a man executed for being a Christian.
Son Jong Hoon told a news conference in Washington, D.C., that his life’s goal now is to save his brother, Son Jong Nam, a former North Korean Army officer turned underground evangelist.
“I pray to God for my brother’s safety,” he said, describing the horrors of the basement jail cell where Son Jong Nam has been held, beaten and tortured since his most recent arrest.
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