North Korean followers of Jesus continue to worship in underground churches despite the totalitarian regime’s ongoing effort to eradicate Christianity, according to a new documentary film produced by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Screen capture from ERLC video
North Korean followers of Jesus continue to worship in underground churches despite the totalitarian regime’s ongoing effort to eradicate Christianity, according to a new documentary film produced by the ERLC.
The ERLC premiered the 10-minute video – “Humanity Denied: Religious Freedom in North Korea” – during a July 18 Capitol Hill discussion regarding conditions in the Asian country. The Southern Baptist entity hosted the conversation at a U.S. Senate office building as a side event on the third and final day of the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
The United States government and non-governmental organizations typically rate North Korea as one of the world’s worst violators, if not the worst violator, of religious liberty. Yet, Christians continue to gather, a female escapee from the country says in the documentary.
“There are underground churches built in North Korea even now, which are not known by the North Korean regime and many North Korean people,” says the woman, who is not identified and whose face is hidden. “There are people worshipping there.”
A North Korean who now lives in South Korea says in the film, “I saw how North Koreans believe in Jesus. I saw how the providence of God was affecting” Christians in North Korea.
“I had no idea about the existence of underground churches,” says the man, who also is unidentified. “So it was very surprising for me. [L]iving with faith in North Korea means risking one’s life. There are people worshiping in the mountains, along rivers, and in the field while working in groups of two or three.”
A personality cult involving one family has dominated North Korea since the country’s establishment more than 70 years ago. Kim Il-sung ruled until his death in 1994, followed by his son, Kim-Jong-il, and now his grandson, Kim Jong-un. Totalitarianism, religious oppression – especially of Christians – and economic deprivation have marked their reign.
The ERLC has made the effort for religious freedom in North Korea a policy priority this year, and messengers to June’s annual SBC meeting passed a resolution condemning the North Korean and Chinese regimes for their “extreme religious persecution.”
ERLC President Russell Moore said of the documentary, “This short film tells the story of God’s people in North Korea, but it does more than that because the story of God’s people turns earthly power upside down.
“The anguish of the journey our brothers and sisters in Christ took to escape the horrors of the Kim Jong-un regime is what gives this film its force,” he said in an ERLC news release. “Biblical courage redefines power and reshapes community. Those of us who belong to Christ find [our] power in the spirit of God and, as these brave Koreans teach us, that ought to embolden us to stand, even against a despot who denies our humanity. These men and women are a gift to the church and I hope many will learn from their example of courageous faith.”
While the regime has not eliminated Christianity, it has prevented most North Koreans from learning about Jesus and the gospel.
“When I was in North Korea, I never heard of the word ‘church,’” the female escapee says in the documentary. “I did not know what church was about, and I had never heard of the word ‘Jesus Christ.’ In North Korea, I was brainwashed by the ideology of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. We all worshiped the idols of Kim Il-sung and Kim-Jong-il, not God. We worshiped Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il as God.”
She met the true God when she fled to China, the woman says in the video.
“I believe that the only way to the unification of the two Koreas – to understand and to love each other – will be the gospel,” she said.
Another woman in the documentary explains she was repatriated to North Korea three times before ultimately escaping to freedom. She not only was imprisoned but had her baby forcibly aborted on one occasion.
The North Korean regime “does not recognize as a citizen a child of mixed blood,” says the woman, who also is unidentified in the video. “So they forced abortions on female, North Korean defectors who got pregnant abroad, without exception.
“I underwent a forced abortion. And the surgery was without anesthesia. It’s by God’s grace that I am able to tell my story,” she says. “It broke my heart. So after losing my baby, I got to know God’s heart.”
She wants the international community to know the truth about the lack of human rights in North Korea, the woman says in the documentary. “Then, they can care for people in North Korea who are still suffering from the repression of human rights, and care for people who have no freedom of religion,” she says.
The documentary, which provides captions of the interviews, is available at ERLC.com/northkorea.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)