Christian Persecution Heaviest in North Korea

Dec 02, 2013 06:31 PM EST

North Korea has been ranked by Open Doors as the hardest place in the world to be a Christian. It is illegal to be a Christian in the communist dictatorship under Kim Jong-Un, and those who are caught with a Bible face prison, public execution, or are sent to concentration camps.

North Korea Christian Persecution
An illustration drawn by a former prisoner who was detained in Chongori prison, North Korea. This picture shows prisoners carrying buckets full of excrement and mud to fertilise the land. (Photo : Open Doors UK)

There are 400,000 estimated Christians in North Korea, a country in which the faith once thrived according to NorthKoreanChristians.com. Thousands of churches had sprung up in the Korean peninsula in the early 1900s before Japan annexed them in 1910 and threatened to execute those who would not worship the Japanese emperor. Persecution of Christians heightened in 1945 when Kim II Sung occupied North Korea and created his own "Juche" religion, sentencing all who did not worship him as god to concentration camps. Kim Jong II was also worshipped as the son of god, in an eerie religious parallel to Christianity. North Koreans are required to hang pictures of Kim II Sung in their homes as a reminder that they are dependent on him as their god.

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Christianity is heavily persecuted in the country, where an estimated 50,000 Christians have been put into concentration camps. "Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture or even public execution," says Open Doors - "There is a vigorous elimination program in existence to convert, imprison, banish or execute individuals who have converted to Christianity." Many have also been publicly executed for being suspected of owning Bibles or being a part of underground Christian churches. Open Doors, a Christian ministry which supplies Bibles and leadership training for the persecuted church around the world, ranks North Korea as the "most difficult place on earth to be a Christian." One refugee who was formerly a North Korean official claims that the country's leadership believes that the "Juche" religion, which also contains tenants of Marxism, would be defeated if Christianity were to spread.

North Korean labor camps are known to be surveyed by guards in watchtowers and to have high barbed wire fences, surrounded by minefields - "Escape is almost impossible," says Open Doors. According to a former concentration camp prisoner, prisoners were only given three handfuls of maize to eat per day, and many starved to death. Christians were forbidden to look up at the heavens, and would be sent to the "electrical torture room" if they were caught doing so.

Some organizations have been able to enter the country undetected. One Christian ministry sent 40-foot balloons into North Korea and dropped 50,000 Bibles and tracts from the sky last year. The Open Doors organization has also been able to work with underground networks to bring in Bibles, food, and medicine to Christians in the country. The ministry offers a prayer guide for North Korea in the hopes that the Lord will help the persecuted church endure.