Pray.Network

A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities

This discussion will post prayer alerts and resources for the Persecuted Church in 2017.  In the past, I've posted my own prayers using Open Doors resources, but this year I'm going to focus on posting the resources themselves and hopefully equipping many to pray.  Primary source material for this discussion will come from Open Doors, including the World Watch List, monthly Prayer Force Alert calendars, and prayer news items.  Additional resources will be drawn from Voice of the Martyrs and International Christian Concern.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. -- Hebrews 13:3

Here are a few key links to help you pray for the Persecuted Church:

World Watch List (Open Doors)

Prayer Updates (Open Doors)

Monthly Prayer Calendar (Open Doors)

Prayer News (Voice of the Martyrs)

Prayer News (International Christian Concern)

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January Prayer Force Alert Daily Prayer Calendar

Attached is the January prayer calendar from Open Doors (also accessible on their website at the link above).  The prayer calendar specifies a brief prayer request for each day, following a monthly cycle of topics across several days.  A couple of suggestions for using the calendar:

  1. Incorporate a brief prayer each day for that day's prayer request into your quiet time
  2. Pray through an entire topic (several days) at once.
  3. Use the World Watch List prayer guide for a weekly prayer for a country from the WWL (which you can also find on their website; the link to the WWL is in the initial post on this discussion).

The calendar is a 2-page PDF; if you're going to print it, you'll want to print landscape.

Thank you for praying!!

Attachments:

Dec. 21: Tensions Prompt Cancelation of Christmas Celebrations

[from the Open Doors website]

In Manipur state in northeastern India, a curfew has been announced until December 25th and churches are being threatened with dire consequences if they proceed with Christmas celebrations. Manipur is comprised mainly of two groups of people: the local ethnic group Meitei (mostly Hindus) and people from hill tribes such as the Nagas and the Manipuri (these tribes are mostly Christians). There has historically been a constant political rift between the two groups.

On Dec. 15, as Manipur Chief Minister Mr O. Ibobi Singh was on his way to inaugurate a new district in Lokchow near Tengnoupa, The Naga insurgency group NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) which is not in favor of the new district, launched an attack in which 3 security personnel were killed. In response, Meitei Hindus called a strike all over Manipur. Two days later on Dec, 17, a local volunteer in Manipur reported that some local men and women attacked the Manipur Baptist Church Centre around noon, pelting the building with stones that broke some of the glass, and damaged the gate and the sign board for the book store. The church is comprised primarily of Christians from the Naga tribe. A sign was also posted stating that, “No one is allowed to worship and celebrate Christmas without prior permission.” The group of attackers also verbally warned the TBCI (Tangkhul Baptist Church Imphal), which is located about one mile from the Manipur church, that the church would be burned down if they conduct worship services.

Though the situation was chaotic on Dec. 17, no casualties were reported. On the same day, at another location in Imphal East, vehicles were being stopped. Due to the rise of communal tension in the state, Addl Chief Secy announced the suspension of internet/data services in the state and a seven-day curfew until December 25. A local pastor told our volunteer, “this might just seem to be a communal issue, but this is all planned to create problems for the Christians as even the government has announced a curfew till Christmas.”

Father, You sent Your Son to earth as a light to men that many would turn from spiritual darkness into the light of Christ. We pray against Satan using the political tensions in Manipur to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims and dim the light of Christ in their midst. We pray for Your protection to rest upon Your servants in Manipur state and for Your wisdom to guide church leaders in responding to the threats in ways that bring glory to Your name. Whether or not the normal Christmas celebrations and special worship services took place yesterday, we pray that the light of Christ will live and shine through the humble and compassionate lives of Your servants there and that the good news of Christ will be spread throughout the land. In the name of Jesus, who is he light of the world. Amen.

ICC 2016 Hall of Shame Report

{The following is from International Christian Concern  and was also reported on the Presidential Prayer Team website.  Click the link to download the complete "Hall of Shame" report"}

Today, we are releasing our annual "Hall of Shame" report for 2016, highlighting the world's 12 countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians. This year's report is unique, as it divides countries into three categories:

  • Worst of the Worst
  • Core Countries
  • New and Noteworthy

The final category includes the United States, as well as Russia and Mexico. This is the first time in our history that we've included the United States in our annual "Hall of Shame."

 

While conditions in the US are in no way comparable to other countries on the list, a certain segment of the culture and the courts seems to be intent on driving faith out of the public square. There have been too many court cases with bad decisions to miss the clear trend line.

 

Given this context of declining religious freedom domestically, it is of the utmost importance to raise awareness on the issue.

Dec. 21: Inhumane Prison Treatment for Vietnamese Lutheran Pastor

A Vietnamese Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned for fighting for religious freedom was recently placed in isolation and has not been allowed to contact his family after seeking equal rights with other prisoners. Pastor Chinh, 50, was arrested and sentenced to eleven years in prison in 2011 “for defending the religious freedom of Christians in the central highlands. He was charged with violating Article 87 of the Vietnam penal code for ‘undermining national solidarity.’

According to the Gospel Herald, the authorities claim that in prison, Chinh incited other prisoners to go on a hunger strike to demand the normally allotted five-minute phone call per month to their families. His wife, Tran Thi Hong, reported that when her husband and the others asked for equal treatment regarding the phone calls, broken glass, lead, and dead flies was mixed into their food. He was then unexpectedly transferred to Xuan Loc Prison in Dong Nai province. His family did not learn of the transfer until his wife Tran Thi Hong went to visit him on Dec.12 and was told by prison authorities that her husband had been moved.

Hong has been advocating for the welfare of her husband and others to news sources, asserting that the prisoners are being treated inhumanely without just cause. Upon arrival at Xuan Loc Prison, Chin’s belongings were confiscated, including his Bible, and his wife has not been permitted to provide him with food, medicine and clothes. He is kept in isolation and only given food twice a day through a small window. Hong is concerned for his health, fearing that he is too weak to survive until the end of his sentence.

Vietnam is number twenty on the Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries where Christian persecution is most severe. Most of the persecution stems from communist oppression.

Source: Gospel Herald

We pray, Father, for Pastor Chinh as he suffers hardship in prison. We pray for his health and for his safety in the midst of harsh, inhumane treatment, and for his early release. As he serves You there even in this dark time in his life, we pray that Your presence in him will be apparent to other prisoners and to the guards. We pray for his wife Tran Thi Hong that she will be allowed to bring food, clothes and medicine to him and care for his health. And we pray for religious freedom to come to the nation of Vietnam that Christians might worship openly and that the gospel of Christ might be proclaimed in great power and authority. In the name of Jesus at whose name one day, every knee will bow and tongue confess that He is Lord of all. Amen.

WWL #41: Kuwait

  • Leader:Emir Sheikh Al-Sabah
  • Government:Constitutional Emirate
  • Population:3.4 million (420,000 Christians)
  • Main Religion:Islam
  • Persecution Level:Moderate
  • Source of Persecution:Islamic extremism/ Dictatorial paranoia
Kuwait is a tiny nation that has a strong economy based on oil. It is one of the richest countries in the Arab world. The country has 4,007,000 inhabitants, of whom more than half are immigrants. Kuwaiti society adheres to conservative Islam. Islam prescribes a wide range of rules for personal, family and community life. Kuwaitis find the idea that religion can be separated from social and political life quite incomprehensible. The constitutional provision regarding religious freedom is full of contradictions. On the one hand, it provides for religious freedom, and on the other hand it includes a very restrictive condition stating that the practice of freedom of religion should not violate established customs, public policy or public morals. The government has been using the traditional conservative tribal society of the country to eliminate the liberal and leftist groups and has so far been very successful. In the process, religious minorities, including Christians, have been severely affected.

Prayer Points for Kuwait

  • Pray for Christians who are barred from participation in community activities for their faith.
  • Pray that believers would be emboldened to share their faith wisely with those around them.
  • Pray for Muslim family members of Christians to see the love of Christ exemplified.

Recent News from Kuwait

Oct 21 2016

Will ISIS Infiltrate Kuwait Next?

Jamal has seen an increasing Islamic fundamentalist influence on his country in the last few years especially, much in part to the rise of the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

+ READ MORE

Oct 6 2016

Upcoming Elections in Morocco Bring Hope For Believers

Friday, October 7th, Moroccans will take to the polls. This is an important time, as it can change the way the Christian church in Morocco is viewed and treated.

+ READ MORE

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Jan. 05: How Ahmed’s Faith started off on a Weak Foundation

Sometimes the real persecution comes from within. The secret church in the Islamic republic of Mauritania is struggling. Only a few hundred of the 3.5 million Mauritanians are followers of Christ, all of them believers with a Muslim background. This small church is fragile and has unfortunately been plagued with bouts of corruption and financial dependency. We should be cautious when speaking from a position of wealth. Ahmed’s story shows how God’s miraculous work in this country is threatened by what the Bible calls ‘the root of all evil’ —the love of money.

Living in Mauritania wasn’t easy for 33-year-old Ahmed*, a Muslim living in a small town in the Sahara desert. In many ways his country seems to be stuck in the medieval times with its traditional Islamic family and society structures, its low level of development, and its nomadic culture combined with extreme poverty (Mauritania is in the top 30 poorest countries in the world). Life is challenging at best for anyone not belonging to the small elite of extremely rich Mauritanians.

A few years ago Ahmed’s life seemed to take a turn for the worse when his daughter was diagnosed with a severe skin disease. Doctors didn’t know how to help and Ahmed feared for her life. For some months a co-worker had been talking with him about Jesus and about God’s power to heal. In his despair Ahmed allowed his co-worker to pray for his daughter.

To the surprise of many in the community, God answered this prayer and Ahmed’s daughter made a miraculous recovery. In accordance with the Mauritanian tradition where every favor is paid for, Ahmed offered his Christian co-worker two goats as payment for healing is daughter. To Ahmed’s surprise the man refused to accept them. He didn’t want to take credit for the work his Lord had done.

This got Ahmed thinking. After a few months he experienced a breakthrough and decided to follow Jesus. Being an enthusiastic young Christian, he confessed his newfound faith with conviction, even telling a number of others about it.

In an effort to learn more about the God of the Bible, Ahmed connected with other believers with a Muslim background who had formed a small underground network in Mauritania. While there was some fellowship and some basic Scripture study, he soon discovered that one of the main priorities of the group was seemingly to find ways to benefit financially for having chosen to follow Jesus.

Basically, the other believers told Ahmed that some international Christian organizations were willing to financially support secret believers in his country but that these funds were blocked by foreigners living in huge houses in Mauritania’s capital. They were using these donated funds for their own benefit.

For the first time since he started to follow Christ, Ahmed felt a sting of betrayal in his heart towards the foreign Christians. And drop by drop the bitterness that had been defining the other believers also found its way to his heart.

All this was happening while his Muslim neighbors were shutting him out of the community and putting pressure on him to re-convert to Islam. Ahmed started to feel more and more entitled to the foreign funds that he kept hearing about. He started to ask other Christians for money, especially foreigners he met. He became convinced that receiving more money would solve all his problems and be the ultimate help in his growing isolation.

Gradually, this financial focus seemed to cripple Ahmed’s spiritual life. He stopped thinking about the work of God and started focusing mainly on funds. Most conversations in the secret church meetings he visited were focused on that subject as well. The situation was not helped by rumors of other believers who had received huge sums in the past and were living lives of luxury.

Ahmed’s faith was smothered by greed. The only feeling left was bitterness.

---

Sadly, the story of Ahmed is similar to those of many Christians in Mauritania. Amidst the huge pressure of Islam as the religion-by-law for the entire population, people come to faith by dreams, visions, and miracles. God’s Word has a strong impact on them. And the openness for Christians to witness in society seems to be growing.

But the secret church is suffering from a spirit of jealousy, dependency, and mistrust. This is a barrier for spiritual growth. Without a functioning Body of Christ, new believers in Mauritania are missing opportunities to grow in discipleship and are forced to be solitary believers.

A big part of the problem can also be traced to the actions of well-meaning foreigners, many of whom live extravagant lifestyles in big houses and own nice 4x4 cars. At the same time, they give small amounts of funds out of guilt rather than long term love. This further entrenches the spirit of dependency as they relate from a position of power towards their Mauritanian brothers and sisters.

A growing number of Christian workers in Mauritania are convinced that the only way to help the church there is to actually stop giving money to it and break the cycle of dependency. Living more simply in the face of poverty would also help.

They request prayer in support of new initiatives that are growing and for the church to be renewed and to become Christ-focused again.

*Representative name and photo used to protect identity of persecuted believers. 

Jan. 05: Praying Insightfully for the Sultan of Brunei

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (68) is the 29th and current Sultan of Brunei, a tiny Islamic kingdom of 420,000 nested in Southeast Asia, neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. He succeeded to the throne in 1967 after the voluntary resignation of his father and was crowned the following year. Today, he holds what seems to be unlimited power; Bolkiah is Head of State, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Minister of Finance, and Head of Religion. He received his high school education in Malaysia and continued his studies in the United Kingdom at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

The father of eight children from three wives was once dubbed the wealthiest individual in the world. In 2008, Forbes estimated his riches to be US$20 billion. He lives in a palace containing nearly 1,800 rooms and owns at least 150 Rolls-Royces. One of his wives was notorious for splurging half-a-million dollars in one shopping day.

Managing an oil-dependent, rich country, Bolkiah provides welfare for his people. Health treatment, for example, is free of charge for children and costs a minimal amount for most adult citizens. In exchange, he took away freedom of press and religion. In 1991, the Sultan introduced a conservative ideology which presents the monarchy as the defender of Islam. In 2014, he implemented a Sharia penal code that would eventually bring corporal punishment such as flogging and amputation.

Malays, the predominant race in the country, are prohibited from renouncing Islam. Bolkiah allows historical churches to operate, but monitors them closely and strongly curbs evangelism. On the other hand, Islamization takes place at full speed and a good number of Asian expats have converted to Islam as a result.

The Man Behind the Throne

From a distance, the Sultan fits the profile of a dictator—someone more similar to a glamorous Hitler than a Gandhi. But a closer look at the Sultan reveals another side that is rarely seen by international media: he is loved and adored by the Bruneians. “He’s very compassionate and generous,” said a Bruneian believer. “After natural calamities, he goes to the fields and visits his people, granting them whatever they need be it emergency aid or a piece of land.”

As a result, people look up to him as their primary role model. “There was a time when His Majesty enrolled his children in an Islamic boarding school. Suddenly, the school’s intake soared and everyone started enrolling their kids in Muslim education!” said another believer. Soon, the Sultan found that his children barely spoke English as they had learned nothing but the Quran. The disappointed king withdrew his kids from the school and sent them elsewhere; a move followed by many Bruneians.

When Sultan Bolkiah announced his desire to implement the Sharia penal code, speculations arose regarding his motivation behind the laws. “Why only now?” many asked. After all, Brunei had been an Islamic kingdom for centuries. The depleting oil reserve might be one source of his insecurity, some analysts said, prompting him to control his subjects through other means. All this time, social welfare has effectively bred obedience among his people.

But others believe that the motive is purely religious: “He’s getting old. He wants to leave a legacy before he dies.” This is a legacy that, according to Islamic teachings, would earn him a spot in paradise. Meanwhile, others are convinced that the laws were the brain child of not the Sultan himself, but his personal advisors.

When the new Islamic laws were finalized and enforced, confusion filled the air on how to interpret them. The code, for instance, punishes people for indecent clothing—but what constitutes as indecent? Does it mean that every woman must cover her head with hijab and her arms with long sleeves? The debates escalated until His Majesty spoke up: “Let’s use common sense in defining decent: so long as you’re properly dressed and not sneered at by the society.” The following day, youngsters roamed around the town in shorts without a care. There is, apparently, a reasonable man behind the religious stunt.

In another instance, the Sultan himself criticized the penal code. The Sharia Law prohibits non-Muslims from using 19 Islamic words, including Allah (God) and imam (religious leader). “I don’t understand,” said the Sultan, as quoted by a believer. “What is a Christian supposed to say if he’s about to meet or speak with an imam?” The pastor continued: “I trust the Sultan didn’t want the laws to be this brutal.” He was referring to the corporal punishments such as flogging, amputation, and the death penalty for crimes such as homosexuality, adultery, and apostasy.

“When we pray for Brunei, we should focus on the Sultan,” pleaded a lady pastor. “He is the key person behind all religious restrictions. If there is one person who could make things better or worse for Christians in this country, it would be him.” In fact, last Christmas, Sharia law enforcers already banned believers from celebrating Jesus’ birth or putting up Christmas decorations in public.

As we pray for the Sultan, let us pray insightfully for the following:

  1. Pray that the Holy Spirit would minister to him and speak to his conscience. Pray also that he would one day have a personal encounter with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
  2. Pray that His Majesty is given wisdom and a reasonable mind in interpreting and enforcing the Sharia Law.
  3. Pray also for his advisors who may feed the ruler with ideas of Islamic fundamentalism. May the Lord raise more ‘Daniels’ and place them among his inner circle.
  4. May the Sultan be compelled to demonstrate religious tolerance—a behavior that will be modeled by the citizens.
  5. Lastly, if the Lord is willing, may the Sultan be exposed to the flaws of the Islamic laws and eventually abolish them.

Open Doors Publishes 2017 World Watch List

The World Watch List is an annual publication of Open Doors.  This list contains the 50 countries where persecution of believers is most severe.  This week, Open Doors published the 2017 edition of the WWL.

I've attached the 2017 World Watch List to this entry, as well as a Quick Start Guide from Open Doors with ideas for how to use the WWL either individually or as a group or a church.  You can find more resources related to the WWL, including a printable map, at the link above.  (I couldn't attach the map; the file size is too large.)

From this point, I will begin to use the 2017 information to post here for prayer.  Each week, I will post the prayer items for a specific country, working my way down the list.  I encourage you to pray as God leads - whether for one country a week, or for multiple countries at a time.  I will also continue to post other prayer items from Open Doors, ICC, and Voice of the Martyrs here.

Attachments:

Jan. 05: 20,000 Bibles – A Stream of Living Water in the Palestinia...

In less than twelve months they were completely out of stock—20,000 special edition New Testaments for Palestinian Orthodox believers. For many families, this Bible is the first one they have personally owned. A key church leader said about this project: “We should have done this 2,000 years ago.”

It must have felt the same at the beginning of the Reformation, centuries ago in Europe. People had been attending church and they knew about the Good News of Christ, but they didn’t read the Bible themselves. And all of a sudden the Word of God was available to them; for the first time they were actually reading the Gospel. It was the beginning of a huge spiritual revival.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, the denomination to which most Palestinian Christians belong, spiritual life has much to do with sacraments, symbols and traditions which are embedded in daily worship meetings in the church. Up until last year, many churches didn’t have enough printed bibles available to take home; therefore, Bible reading took place mostly in churches. Moreover, it wasn’t a common practice to read the Bible in private. “One priest I know had just ten Bibles in his church,” shares Nashat Filmon, Executive Director of the Palestinian Bible Society. “Orthodox families didn’t have the opportunity to read the Bible at home at all.”

That changed recently. In early 2015 the positive relations between the Palestinian Bible Society and the leadership of the Orthodox Church resulted in the publication of an Orthodox New Testament. Nashat: “This is an easy to understand Arabic translation and contains photos of icons, and most importantly, a recommendation letter from the Patriarch, the head of the Church.”

For an outsider this may seem trivial, for many Orthodox Christians this priestly recommendation is vital. “They need the letter from the Patriarch; they need to know it’s all right,” Nashat explains.

And all right it was. There was a huge demand for the New Testaments. Within a year all 20,000 copies had been given out to Palestinian Christian families, most of them on the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.

The response was overwhelming. “People are calling me daily. ‘I never dreamt that I would have my own bible,’ one man said.” Other Christians are reaching out to Nashat from Jordan, Qatar, and even the United States to thank his organization for printing the Bible.

Nashat shares how the Jerusalem-based church leaders are also excited about the impact of the bible on their flock. “It was a great honor that the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church himself lead the celebration of the launching of this version together with other church leaders. At the celebration one of the leaders said, ‘We should have done this 2,000 years ago’.”

The Bible Society expects a strong spiritual impact from the Bible printing project aimed at Palestinian Christians. “This is a stream of Living Water flowing through the Orthodox Church. Revival is about to happen because the Word of God is available in a whole new way,” Nashat says.

One particular encounter with a Christian who received one of these 20,000 bibles had a great impact on Nashat Filmon. “One morning we were visiting the Jenin area and I saw an old lady reading her new Bible in the first sunlight, sitting in the entrance of her house. An hour later, when we returned, she still was there; she seemed not to have moved at all. And she was still reading in the Word, in broad daylight. She had been reading for a full hour.”

In his office in Jerusalem Nashat tells about the Holy Land being the cradle of Christianity. Palestinian Christians are proud of this heritage, he explains. “The Church was established in this very city at Pentecost and there have been Christians in the Holy Land ever since.”

Many Palestinian Christians have migrated the last few decades. The percentage of Christians has dropped from ten percent of the Palestinian population in 1920 to little over one percent today. Nevertheless, Nashat remains hopeful. “Christianity is declining, yes. But Praise God, a little bit of salt is still enough to bring taste. It’s better to have a little bit of salt that works, than a lot that is tasteless. Pray for a reformation among Palestinian Christians and a fresh breeze of the Holy Spirit to go through the Church.”

Nashat is witnessing that the Bible unites Palestinian Christians. “The Word brings us together—Catholics, Evangelicals, Copts, and Orthodox; together we are the bride of Christ. My prayer is that we as Christians will be united and will be able to lead the way in a process of reconciliation in the Holy Land, in showing that there is hope and forgiveness. Our calling is to spread just a little bit of light. That is enough to cast out the darkness.”

*Representative names and photo to protect persecuted Christians

WWL #1: North Korea

  • Leader:Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un
  • Government:Communist Dictatorship
  • Population:25,405,000 (300,000 Christians)
  • Main Religion:Atheism, Traditional Beliefs
  • Persecution Level:Extreme
  • Source of Persecution:Communist Oppression, Dictatorial Paranoia

Once again, North Korea is ranked as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians, #1 on the World Watch List. In this totalitarian communist state, Christians are forced to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors and often, even their own spouses and children. Due to ever-present surveillance, many pray with eyes open, and gathering for praise or fellowship is practically impossible. Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation. Those who attempt to flee to South Korea through China risk execution or life imprisonment, and those who stay behind often fare no better.

Through local partners, Open Doors is serving Christians in North Korea by providing them with emergency relief aid, including food, medicine and clothes, as well as Bibles, books and other discipleship materials. Open Doors partners in China also provide shelter and aid for Christians who have fled the country, as well as training for those who wish to return to North Korea for ministry.


Prayer Points for North Korea



  • Pray for North Korean believers who are languishing in prison camps, and for the proclamation of the gospel both in and outside the prison walls.
  • Also, pray that Christians in the country would have access to Bibles and fellowship
  • Pray that God would open Kim Jong-Un’s eyes to the surpassing glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jan 04: What Is It Like to Serve North Korean Refugee Women in China?

An Open Door’s staff writer recently met with sister Hwa-Young* to talk about her ministry among North Korean, trafficked women who hide in China. For security, they met in a “safe church” hundreds of kilometers away from Hwa-Young’s mission field; extreme caution was taken. Following are excerpts from the interview.

“We get tea from the church kitchen and sit down in a basic, small meeting room with some plastic chairs and table. She warms her hands by covering the paper cup and smiles genuinely. She is happy to see me and has a lot to share.

“We’ve spoken many times in the past,” I tell her. “This time I want to look back over the past few years. Would you mind telling me about how you became involved in Open Doors ministry for North Korea?”

“It’s a long story, but let me give you the short version. When I was younger, I prayed for missionaries. Whenever I prayed for mission work, I always had this picture of North Korean women in my mind. Still, it took me twenty years to get really involved. For twenty years I served local churches, until finally the call came.”

How did you feel about joining the women’s ministry?

She sips from her tea. “The first two years were the toughest. I had no experience and I didn’t speak Chinese. The culture in China is completely opposite from what I was used to back home. It’s like a jail without bars. You are always under pressure and that is very intense. Dealing with North Korean women is also really hard. Then there’s the security issue. How do you avoid being arrested? I felt lonely, pressured and homesick all the time.

“And now I don’t have any fear of death. I’m a single woman, and if it’s necessary I don’t mind dying for this cause. The hardest part was the fact that I couldn’t rely on anyone else. When I feel lonely, there’s nobody to talk to.

“It’s the first thing Brother Simon tells you when you join this ministry: you cannot open yourself up to others. Explaining your feelings means you have to explain how we do ministry and that is dangerous. For me and for others. I have to be very strict. I cannot share stories over the phone. I cannot become a church member. I cannot confide in a pastor. I currently have two friends, but even with them I share only about 50 percent of what’s troubling me.”

How are North Korean women different from South Korean women?

“There’s such a big difference. You can hardly compare them. South Koreans are average, like women all over the world. But the North Korean women are, metaphorically-speaking, still prisoners in a jail called ‘North Korean women.’ They don’t know the outside world. Whenever I tell them stories about things happening outside North Korea and outside North East China (where the ‘NK ladies’ live illegally), they cannot grasp what I tell them. Also, the women feel like victims all the time. If I give them something, they don’t receive it as a kind gesture. To them, it feels like somehow I’m taking advantage of them.”

Can you explain why North Korean women are so different? So broken?

“One of the big reasons is that they were raised in fear. They go to pre-school when they are about five-years-old. But they are still forced to watch public executions. Sometimes friends or neighbors were murdered in front of their eyes. Even when they are older and leave the country, they still experience that psychological pressure of fear. There is much more freedom here in China, but the women are still not safe here. So they continue to live in fear. Additionally, most of them have been abused, both in North Korea and in China. They feel numb. They don’t even feel the hurt anymore. Another thing is that they grow up in severe poverty. They are always hungry. All of them know what it is like to worry about every meal, to eat from the trash and to beg for food. They also have been betrayed by people they trusted. That’s one of the hardest things for them.

“Sometimes, in our group meetings, I invite them to forgive others. I ask, ‘Do you know any people whom you can’t forgive? Everyone knows at least one person whom they just can’t forgive. Understanding the process of forgiveness is difficult. But you can see the Lord work in them. Many of them made progress in that area. It sounds impossible, but with God it’s possible for the ladies to forgive. God uses every suffering for good. We go through experiences of hardship and have to learn how to embrace them. I’ve experienced the power of forgiveness myself and I’ve seen how these North Korean girls change and forgive.”

One day, Hwa-Young, received a phone call that she hoped would never come. Grace*, one of the North Korean sisters in her group, was missing.

“I was shocked,” says Hwa-Young, “and didn’t know what to do. I was very afraid of being caught myself. I was the leader. Through me they could find the other sisters as well. I was very fearful. Not for myself, but that others would be arrested too.

“This sister is such an example of someone who has been changed by Jesus through the ministry,” she continues. “At first, she was so angry with everyone that she sacrificed the marriage she had with her husband. He had bought her from a human trafficker, but unlike most Chinese men, he tried to be good to her. She ran away and left her daughter with him. A friend who belonged to one of my groups invited her to our meetings and gradually she changed. She repented and all she wanted was to reunite with her husband and daughter. This was a miracle, because most North Korean girls only fall in love with money. But her husband refused to see her.”

Then the day came when Grace was stopped by the police, who asked for her papers. The 36-year-old didn’t have these papers, so they asked her to call her husband, which she did. But even though she was still married, when the police called him he couldn’t help, or wasn’t willing to.

Grace was repatriated to North Korea and brought to a police station near her hometown, as is the custom for arrested ‘defectors.’ A police officer asked her if she knew anyone with money. He was willing to release her for $2,000, an incredibly high amount. She made a desperate phone call to China and friends were able to collect the money and send it to the police station.

But the month in prison was unbelievably hard. Hwa-Young explains, “When Grace was in prison, she didn’t experience much torture. The other inmates told her how to behave so she wouldn’t get punished. But she went very hungry. She only received meager meals of rotten corn crumbs. She even had to sell clothes to get some salt which she could mix with water. After they let her go, she stayed with her sisters for six months to recover. Then she escaped to China again and we welcomed her back in our group.”

“We held a wonderful celebration, though we didn’t have any cake or bread—only the normal side dishes we always have. We let her share about her experiences, the people she met, the hardships she went through, and also some funny things. Like most North Koreans, she didn’t share much emotion, just the facts.”

She has not yet reunited with her husband and daughter, “but she keeps praying for that to happen. She went to South Korea, got a South Korean passport eventually, and then traveled to China for her family. The husband is not ready yet. So, she will go back to South Korea, earn money and hopefully God will work in his heart and she can bring them over to South Korea. She also wants to bring her sisters out of North Korea.”

Through this experience, Hwa-Young has learned that God is in control. Next time, she will be less afraid. “The goal of our women’s project,” she explained, “is to raise up female leaders for the future. Right now, I have three appointed already. Every summer and winter we have more intensive Bible studies for ladies who show the willingness and potential to grow into leaders. My personal desire is to simply be steadfast in doing what the Lord requires of me. I will continue to enjoy dwelling in His presence, especially when I’m lonely.”

Reflecting on the needs of the North Korean women with whom she works, Hwa-Young says, “The North Korean people are indoctrinated 24/7 and have had to idolize Kim Il-Sung. That is so strong that Kim Il-Sung is stuck in everyone’s soul. Even when people start believing in God, it’s difficult to replace this idol in their hearts. God needs to break the idol. Even when refugees have lived in China or South Korea for some time, they often cannot handle when someone says something negative about Kim Il-Sung. He’s been dead since 1994, but it’s like he’s always present.

Father, the power of the North Korean indoctrination is great and we call on You, through the redeeming work of Christ, to release the women from that power. We pray Your protection over Hwa-Young as she ministers to them, that You will grant her wisdom, authority and power to speak the truth from Your Word into their lives. And we pray that You will raise up from these broken and fearful women strong leaders to expand Hwa-Young’s work, so that the name of Christ might be glorified in the land of China. One glorious day, we pray that the power of darkness will be broken in North Korea by the light of Christ. In the name of Jesus, the light of the world. Amen.

North Korea Again Tops List of Repressive States

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch Friday once again designated North Korea as one of the world’s most abusive and repressive states in its annual global report.

A groundbreaking 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on human rights abuses in North Korea said, “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

The report documented ongoing atrocities that include a network of political prisons where between 80,000 and 120,000 inmates are sent, often with their entire families, as well as widespread and systematic atrocities that include torture, enslavement, forced labor, rape and murder.

The U.N. General Assembly voted in 2014 to refer the Kim Jong Un government of North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. The measure stalled in the U.N. Security Council where the North’s allies, China and Russia, have reportedly blocked the measure from being enacted.

Existential threat

Since the report was issued, Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, says there has been no improvement in the human rights situation in North Korea.

“It’s gotten worse actually. One of the areas where we looked at quite closely this time was the punishing of people who tried to leave North Korea illegally, and also people who were trying to get information from outside into North Korea,” he said.

North Korea has denied or contested international criticism of its human rights situation. In November, North Korean U.N. Counselor Ri Song Chol said a recent resolution condemning the human rights situation in his country was "full of lies, fabrications," and he called it "an illegal and unlawful document, a plot, which is not worth consideration."

High-ranking North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho, who was Kim Jong Un’s deputy ambassador in London before he fled to South Korea in July, recently said the leadership in Pyongyang views human rights criticism as an existential threat. If widely disseminated in North Korea, he said, it could undermine the carefully nurtured public image of Kim as a near infallible leader.

Robertson said in the last year North Korea has also tried to crack down on outside information entering the country through external media drives loaded with critical news reports and oppositional political messages, and also with popular South Korea movies and TV series.

Trump

During the administration of President Barack Obama, the United States has led international efforts to pressure Kim Jong Un to improve the human rights situation in North Korea through diplomatic action and economic sanctions.

The U.N. sanctions on North Korea do not mention human rights violations. These measures were imposed for the North’s continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of international resolutions banning these programs.

In July the United States blacklisted Kim Jong Un along with 22 other entities and individuals for their role in serious human rights violations, hunting down defectors, and for censorship in North Korea.

This week, the U.S. Treasury Department placed Kim Yo Jong, 27 - who it said is the younger sister of Kim Jong Un - and other officials on an expanded sanctions list of North Koreans for human rights abuses.

President-elect Donald Trump has not yet addressed international efforts to hold North Korean leaders accountable for widespread and systematic human rights abuses.

Robertson urges the incoming president to prioritize human rights in the same way that past administrations have.

“We want to make sure that the baton is passed in a smooth way between the Obama administration and the Trump administration to continue the focus on human rights and North Korea. And obviously if we don’t see that, we will be very critical of the Trump administration going forward,” said Robertson.

Youmi Kim contributed to this report.

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