North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un recently encouraged workers to build up their “communist faith.” In a letter released by North Korean state media last month, Kim wrote to a federation of trade unions, claiming that such communist faith is required to attain the utopian society supposedly possible in the world’s last true communist dictatorship.
But placing faith in the totalitarian Kim regime has not worked out for North Koreans in the past. In the 1990s, North Koreans had become accustomed to certain provisions by the government. But when a famine hit and the government could no longer provide food for the people, mass starvation and death followed, claiming as many as three million lives.
Some North Koreans crossed over the border with China in search of food, and some found spiritual sustenance as well. Missionaries from South Korea traveled to China’s border region to aid desperate North Koreans, offering them food, shelter, clothing, and sharing the gospel with them.
Missionary outreach from the 1990s is one of the main ways Christians in China today heard about Christ. To this day, North Korea remains the most isolated country on earth. There is no free access to information. It is particularly dangerous to be caught with religious materials. One defector suggested that murderers have a better chance escaping punishment than someone found to be in possession of a Bible.
Recently, North Korean defectors Yeonmi Park and Cherie Yang answered questions about their experiences in North Korea on YouTube. When the subject of religion came up, Yang recounted that her first experience in a Western church made her uncomfortable because it reminded her of the enforced adoration paid to the Kim family dictators in North Korea. She said that Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of North Korea) adopted songs praising himself similar to worship songs praising God that might be heard in a Christian church.
The North Korean regime transformed the country into an atheistic society as it set out to eradicate religious belief, driving the church far underground. But that was not enough. Kim Il Sung, along with his son and grandson after him, positioned themselves as gods, requiring the praise of their people. This is an unspeakably cruel and ultimately ineffective course of action. No “communist faith” or worship for a dictator will create a utopian society in North Korea or anywhere else.
The North Korean people deserve to be free—to practice their religion, to speak their opinions, to access information, and to have a say in their system of governance. Those of us in the free world should not stop advocating and praying for the North Korean people until the day that becomes a reality.