By Dan Wooding
SANTA ANA, CA (April 28, 2000) -- Since October 1999 some 23 Christians have been killed in public by firing squads on falsified criminal charges in North Korea reports Open Doors, the ministry begun 45 years ago by Brother Andrew, the Dutch-born author of "God's Smuggler."
"All of those killed are young Christians [new converts - 1st generation]," said Terry Madison, US President and CEO of Open Doors, based in Santa Ana, California. "Most of them had fled to China and became Christians and then returned to North Korea where they were eager to share the gospel with their own people that have been so starved of the message of Christ. It is this group of young converts who are the most vulnerable, whereas the older Christians [2nd and 3rd generation] know how to survive."
Madison also revealed that in March 1999 a Christian was executed in Hambuk province in front of a multitude of people, under the false accusation of selling North Korean girls to China. "In reality, he was simply shot because he was an active Christian," said Madison. "He never betrayed his Christian brothers and sisters and remained faithful to His Lord until the end."
He went on to reveal other atrocities:
"In October 1999 two brothers were shot to death at ChungJin prison. They were well trained and actively ministered in North Korea. After they were arrested they were so terribly tortured that they revealed the names of Christians involved in the ministry. However, they never denied the Lord Jesus even when martyred. Thank God our Open Doors co-worker heard about this and was able to warn the brothers and sisters who had been revealed.
"In December 1999 two ladies were openly shot in HaeSan city on the charge of illegal smuggling. Again, in reality they were very faithful Christians and ministered actively. During the same month two other Christians were shot in public in HamBuk province. One of them had every one of their teeth broken by North Korean officers so he couldn't make any sound; this because he boldly witnessed and preached the gospel to the end as he was dragged to his place of execution."
Madison stated that there have been several other executions of Christians in the country, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, but widely referred to as "The Hermit Kingdom."
Madison said, "In May 1997 seven North Korean Christians were shot to death in a prison in the Hambuk province. This took place in front of the other prisoners. Their jaw joints were broken because they continued to pray and sing even at the last moment of their lives.
"In March and July of 1998, four Christians were shot to death in the Hambuk province prison. The prisoners were terribly tortured and one was even starved in order to make him deny his faith. An observer told Open Doors, however, that he never denied his faith and frequently knelt down to pray. He was finally shot to death. The others also showed unexplainable boldness and peace in themselves. North Korean officers beat them terribly and they subsequently became unconscious. Then they were shot.
"These heartrending testimonies are nevertheless only the tip of the iceberg."
TERRIBLE CONDITIONS IN THE COUNTRY
Madison said that the current situation in North Korea is still very bad, with a continuing famine and many people starving. "According to an unconfirmed source, a North Korean doctor had mentioned that in Hamkyong province 5,000 people [including many children] died every day during the worst days in 1998-1999 in hospitals, homes and in the streets, especially in railway stations.
"The estimated number of people starving is 3-5 million. Because of this state of emergency people are very open to the gospel, as they have no hope. Before the famine there was hardly any openness since the people were brainwashed by government propaganda.
"As a result of the famine, many people try to flee to China. One estimate is that there are 50-80,000 North Korean refugees currently in China. When they are caught by the Chinese authorities, who do not consider them refugees, they are heavily fined and sent back to North Korea. It appears as though they are interrogated upon return and when there is any indication of Christian influence, they are condemned to labor camps or death sentence. Also some border areas are booby-trapped to stop people fleeing into China, according to the North Korean refugees who spoke with our Open Doors researchers."
Madison went on to say that around 5,000 North Korean children are in China at this time. "For instance in Shenyang there are many such children sleeping and begging in the market place," he said. "Recently the police picked up about 37 children from the market place and sent them back to North Korea. Korean-Chinese Christians have taken care of North Korean refugees and many become Christians as a result. Many of these children have become Christians as well. One of them, around age 12, realized that his grandmother [still in North Korea] who used to gather her old friends and held secret meetings, must also be a Christian and was holding worship services.
"However the North Korean government is aware of the fact that North Korean refugees are taken care of in China. To trace the people involved and the places where the refugees are hiding, they are sending secret agents disguised as refugees. In this way they have been able to catch several thousand North Korean refugees in China and forcibly bring them back to North Korea."
Madison said that it can be reasonably assumed that since 1995 several hundred North Korean Christians have been martyred secretly in North Korea; most would be those who became Christians in China after Korean-Chinese Christians and Korean missionaries helped them.
THE NORTH KOREAN CHURCH
"A witness claims that one of the target groups that the government identified for extermination for three successive generations was 'the religious people,'" said Madison. "This indication does not give reason for much hope for the future. North Korean refugees report that it still lands you in a labor camp if you're discovered praying or organizing a meeting.
"Under the influence of this pressure, people are obviously not open about their faith. It is therefore very hard to know exactly how many North Korean Christians there are. Many maintain, however, that an underground Church does flourish in the northern areas but that it is strictly organized around family lines. Church leaders [4th generation] estimate there are at least 500,000 Christians inside North Korea. The house churches meet in secret; sometimes up to 80 people come together in caves in rural areas."
OPEN DOORS INVOLVEMENT
Madison said that in 1996 Open Doors started its ministry to the Suffering Church in North Korea. "We support the local Christians by delivering Bibles, food, medicines, FEBC radios [which enable them to listen to Christian Radio stations], bicycles, notebooks and pens," he said. "In 1999, we delivered 10,000 Old Testaments, 3,500 New Testaments, 230 FEBC radios and provided financial support for maintenance of refugees and North Korean Christians. Local Christian leaders are very grateful for the Bibles and have asked us to continue to deliver them, until every North Korean Christian has his or her own copy. The size of the Bible we are distributing is small; this way we can import many of them at the same time, and they are also safer for the locals to possess. There is a special team of North Korean believers who are hand-copying the Bible in larger letters for older people.
"From time to time, the distribution is hindered by illness of our co-workers or by government regulations. For instance, some time ago 150 leaders were expected to meet with our contact person to receive food and financial support, yet only 15 leaders actually came. It turned out that not long before the meeting the government had forced 150 families to relocate into a more southern area of the country. This was their attempt to prevent any more from fleeing to China. In the end, it was amazing that under those circumstances even 15 people were able to meet with us.
"We have come in contact with North Korean Christian refugees, living in China, who have indicated a great need for leadership training. This is because the local leadership is aging and the younger generation needs to be prepared to succeed them. This year Open Doors intends to develop this program inside China and we are investigating the possibilities of conducting this training in North Korea.
"In the meantime we will continue to bring in Bibles -- 20,000 are scheduled for this year alone. We've discovered that there is a great need for hymnals as well, so we plan to distribute 10,000 of them this year.
"We thank the Lord for the opportunities He has given us to serve our suffering brothers and sisters in North Korea. Please pray with us for protection and extension of this ministry."
Specifically Madison asked for prayer for:
* Encouragement of the North Korean believers.
* North Korean Christians in labor camps, for strength and perseverance. Also that they will be able to remain silent about the information they have on other Christian workers, even when they face martyrdom.
* Protection, wisdom and discernment for the Korean Chinese pastors who are taking care of the refugees in China.
* Our Bible deliveries, that they will not be hindered.
* Health of our co-workers.
* Protection for young Christian converts.
* General situation in the country; that food supplies will reach the people that are most needy. Madison concluded by saying, "Although religious freedom is guaranteed by the North Korean constitution, in actual practice religious activity is discouraged, and about two-thirds of the people are nonreligious," he said. "There are only three officially sanctioned churches open in the country -- two being Protestant and the other Roman Catholic.