Travis Weber is FRC's Vice President for Policy and Government Affairs and Director of the Center for Religious Liberty. Arielle Del Turco covers issues of international religious freedom for the Center for Religious Liberty. This article appeared in The Christian Post on November 3, 2019.
“North Korea is the one country where people, the moment they are born, have no freedom.”
Ji Hyeon-a was born there; she should know.
Ji suffered for being a Christian because the North Korean regime is determined to eradicate the Christian faith. North Korea is the single most dangerous place in the world to be Christian, according to Open Doors’ World Watch List. Christians should pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters in North Korea every day, but especially on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, November 3.
Ji recently shared her harrowing testimony of abuse by the North Korean regime at a Family Research Council Action event earlier this month. Ji endured beatings for Christ when North Korean authorities discovered her with a Bible.
When life in North Korea became unsustainable, Ji resolved to escape from North Korea into China, which she managed to do four times. Escaping North Korea is a difficult and dangerous journey not to be undertaken lightly. It often involves evading North Korean authorities and crossing deep rivers, only to dodge Chinese security checkpoints and state-of-the-art surveillance technology once across the border.
After her first three escapes, Chinese authorities deported Ji back to North Korea, where she was sent to a prison camp as punishment for her defection. On two journeys, Ji reached China only to be betrayed and forcibly trafficked into prostitution—an experience too painful to recount in her public testimony—and deported from there.
Once Ji was impregnated before being deported. The North Korean regime despises mixed race children, so when the prison camp guards discovered Ji was pregnant, they forcibly aborted her child in the most brutal way imaginable.
Ji’s story was so painful that it drove both her and her translator to tears. Why, then, does she tell it? She hopes it will provoke people to speak up on behalf of North Korea’s victims. “While people are dying and the rest of the world watches that… if they maintain their silence despite knowing what is going on, I don’t think that’s right.”
The most shocking detail of Ji’s story is that such suffering is common for North Korean Christians. Open Doors <ahref="https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/new-report-must-spur-us-to-prayer-for-north-korean-christians-will-you-join-us/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">estimates that 50,000 Christians are trapped in North Korea’s network of prison camps, and approximately 75 percent die there. Reports indicate that many women who defect from North Korea and find Christ while in China are subject to forced marriages and sex trafficking and are often repatriated back to North Korea only to be punished by the authorities there.
Due to the oppressive state security apparatus which makes its people bow in worship to its national leaders, it’s nearly impossible to live openly as a Christian in North Korea—or express any religious beliefs at all. Three generations of draconian despots have enforced society-wide indoctrination and harsh punishments for anyone who dares to show signs of independent thought. Humanly speaking, the plight of Christians in North Korea is hopeless.
Yet a Christian’s hope rests on the character and promises of God, not on the circumstances, however bleak. Thus, for Christians, seemingly hopeless situations like this one should drive us to prayer – for religious freedom and for the protection of our fellow believers. As a reminder to pray, November 3, 2019 marks the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Persecuted believers can find vital encouragement in knowing other Christians are praying for them. Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held captive in a Turkish prison for his faith, says that he had a deep need to know that people were praying for him and didn’t forget him—prayers of those from all around the world was something that Brunson cherished in his darkest moments.
American Christians, who still have the freedom to live out their faith, should use this day to stand in solidarity with Christians around the world and pray for their fellow Christians, like Ji, who face great danger for putting their faith in Christ. Even if their names, circumstances, and trials are invisible to us, God knows who they are. Churches across America should mark November 3 as an opportunity to pray for our dear, persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.