Lee Joo-Chan* is one of the thousands of North Koreans who grew up in a Christian family without knowing it. In this country, parents can’t risk telling their children about their faith–perhaps the saddest consequence of North Korea’s high “squeeze factor.”
Some parents wait until the children are old enough, then let them in on the “family secret.” Others, like Lee’s parents, never feel that freedom.
“I knew my parents were different, Lee (now in his 50s) said, Everybody called them ‘Communist parents,’ because they took care of the sick, the poor and the needy. At night, they read from a secret book, which I wasn’t allowed to read from. But I heard them whisper the words, and I knew it was their source of wisdom. I also knew that if I ever talked about this to someone else, our family would be taken away.”
Lee Joo-Chan’s mother came to faith before the Second World War during the time that Korea was one country and Japan ruled it. When dictator Kim Il-Sung came to power after the war, Christian persecution started in North Korea, and churches were closed down. Lee escaped from his native country in the late ’90s. His mother came out after some time too. He describes their meeting.
“It was a very emotional moment to meet her in China. For the first time, my mother could tell me all these things that she had kept a secret from me for over 30 years. She took my hand and brought me to an empty house church. There, she told me how she became a Christian in 1935 when she was nine, that her parents had been Christians too, and how everybody served each other during the Japanese occupation of Korea. She longed for those days. She explained how Christ came to this world and died for us all. She told me everything I needed to know about our faith: that she gave birth to me, but that I was actually ‘God’s child,’” she said.
”He will protect you, and He will give you a place to live. Believe in Him. Be faithful. Your eternal life starts from here.”
Lee’s mother started to pray. Aloud. Shouting even. She prayed for three hours, sweat covering her entire body. “She prayed for me, for North Korea and the people of North Korea,” Lee says. “She pleaded with the Lord to save her people.”
Later, Lee’s mother and his brother, who had also come to China, went back to North Korea. They had no idea someone had betrayed them, and when they crossed the river, four hidden soldiers appeared. One hit Lee’s mother with his rifle and killed her instantly. His brother was stabbed to death with bayonets. Lee witnessed the murders from the other side of the river. He later learned that his father and other siblings were arrested and murdered too.
The young man who had been prayed over by his mother was able to reach South Korea, eventually fulfilling his mother’s wish by becoming a pastor and following Jesus.
North Korea ranks as the worst country for Christian persecution on the annual Open Doors World Watch List. The organization estimates that many of the country’s own citizens — including around 50,000 believers — are being held in detention centers, prisons, or political camps.
THREE REASONS FOR SILENT FAITH IN NORTH KOREA
Based on secret conversations with North Korean believers and opendoorsusa, there are three reasons why North Korean parents don’t share the gospel with their young children:
- Ongoing indoctrination: From cradle to grave and from morning till evening, every North Korean citizen is subject to indoctrination. All day, through television, radio channels, newspapers and even loudspeakers, propaganda is poured out on them. One of the first words North Korean parents must teach their children are the words “Thank you, Father Kim Il-Sung.” At school, they learn about the Kim family and their wonderful deeds. They bow in reverence to statues and images. Through books and animation movies, they are taught that Christians are evil spies who kidnap, torture and kill innocent North Korean children, and then sell their blood and organs.
- Too risky: “I was afraid every day for my life in North Korea,” shares Lee Joo-Chan. But children are not always aware of security. They can accidentally sing a song or tell their friends a particular Bible story. At school, teachers may ask if their parents read from a certain black book. Sharing the gospel is extremely dangerous.
- They have nobody to tell them: Sadly, in North Korea, tens of thousands of children (maybe more) have become homeless because their Christian families were torn apart by death, arrests or other tragedies. Sometimes someone is able to reach China but unable to return. The hard, North Korean life has broken up countless families, scaring the surviving children for life.
Read the complete story on opendoorsusa