#AsiaBibi has left the prison and has been transferred to a safe place! I thank the Pakistani authorities. I look forward meeting her and her family, in the European Parliament as soon as possible.
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
I'm trying to consolidate all the Open Doors postings I've been doing into this group. I will be moving the discussion featuring Prayer Alerts and Stories of Persecution to this thread. With each entry, I'll provide the link to the actual page on the Open Doors site, as well as the text of the alert. Please join me in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world!
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 12:3
The Pakistani Supreme Court has just ordered the immediate release of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who has spent over eight years on death row.
According to the official ruling, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The judges quoted extensively from the Quran and other Islamic scriptures, saying among other things that non-Muslims were to be dealt with kindly.
“We are relieved to hear that the Pakistani Supreme Court has dropped the charges against Asia Bibi—charges that were based simply on her Christian identity and false accusations against her,” an Open Doors spokesmen said. “This decision gives us hope that Pakistan will take additional steps to increase freedom of religion and human rights in the country.”
In the meantime, local Christians have asked Open Doors to call for prayer around the world. A few days ago, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the Chief Cleric of Hardcore Extremist Group Tehreek Labek Pakistan (also known as Khaatm-e-Nabooat) in a video message has called upon his followers to come out on the roads and be ready to do and die in case the verdict of Supreme Court came out in favor of Asia Bibi.
Mumtaz Qadri, the man who killed Governor Salman Taseer in daylight in the capital in 2011 belonged to this school of thought and group. Governor Taseer was killed for supporting Asia Bibi and opposing the misuse of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws.
“This is a highly tense and threatening situation for the religious minorities, especially for Pakistani Christians and there is fear of persecution of Christians and attack on their Churches and other properties,” Open Doors partners shared. “Therefore, we call upon the Government of Pakistan and the Supreme Court to take notice of the threat call made by Khadim Rizvi and his Group before the announcement of Asia Bibi verdict. We also call upon to ban Tehreek Labek Pakistan and all similar Extremist Groups who are involved in hate speech and use religion as a tool to promote violence in the society. We also call upon the Government and law enforcement agencies to beef up the security and ensure the deployment of military troops to safeguard the lives and property of religious minorities, especially the Christians and Churches.”
At the same time, church leaders ask their fellow Christians to behave in a manner worthy of Christ. “We call on Christians across the country and around the world to pray and proclaim. To demand our right to justice but to do so in a manner befitting Christians committed to be imitators of Christ. Do not destroy property, do not violate people, do not fall into the trap of violent and aggressive behavior. In response to this verdict, please hold back from making any comments that could be used against you.”
The church leaders continue by saying, “These groups are on high alert and will be watching for any way to increase the pressure against Asia, Christians and the Church. Let us strive to demonstrate restraint, no use of aggression or physical violence can make up for our loss as a Nation and a community. We are a match as a praying people let us trust God and ensure that we demonstrate Him and His Good News at this time. Let us be compassionate to those who mourn and suffer at this time and let us be prepared with our resources to serve this nation at a time when a bloodbath could easily occur. Be willing to become a public care servant, to demonstrate God’s desire for justice, mercy and humility. If you have medical skills or social work skills, be willing to use them. Be watchful, vigilant and calm. God be with us all to Him be all the Glory.”
“God is good,” responded a local Christian after learning about the verdict. “Pray for Pakistan. The situation is unfolding. I’m at my work and I see the rangers come in to take over security. Please pray for God’s mercy and wisdom and for God to do an amazing work in this land.”
Not much later, (certain) offices and schools were closed. “Our staff members are concerned about their children, especially the ones who attend a school with a Muslim majority. Pray that while they travel home, they are not recognized as Christians and won’t draw any attention.”
A mother waiting for her child to come home, shared with us: “Joy, anger, fear, disbelief, fear again, rejoicing, trusting, fear, questions, surrendering: God is in control: surely we will overcome.”
Around the globe, Christians are rejoicing over the miraculous release of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi. With Asia’s release comes the very real fear and threat of persecution of all Christians in Pakistan where Muslim extremists vehemently wage war against anyone or any group who turns from Islam. Here are five things you need to know about Asia Bibi’s case and why, more than ever before, the church in Pakistan needs our prayers.
Since her arrest in 2009, the Christian mother of five has spent her life in a Pakistani prison. In June 2010, she was convicted of blasphemy charges and sentenced to die. She has been waiting for eight years for an appeal hearing that was delayed repeatedly. Recently, Pakistan’s Supreme Court held a hearing and ultimately ordered her release, saying that the prosecution had categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. After nine years of prayers from Christians around the globe, Asia was freed on Oct. 31, 2018.
In June 2009, Asia was accused by Muslim co-workers of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are extremely controversial, often misused to settle petty vendettas and persecute religious minority groups. Charges are difficult to fight because the law does not define blasphemy. In recent years, the country, which is 96 percent Muslim, has seen a surge of accusations of insulting Islam. Since 1986 when the separate clause punishing blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad was inserted into the country’s penal code, at least 150 Christians, 564 Muslims, 459 Ahmadis and 21 Hindus have been jailed under blasphemy charges. Prior to 1986, only 14 cases pertaining to blasphemy were reported. The recommended penalty is death or life imprisonment.
In the weeks leading up to the ruling, Islamic extremists group called for the deaths of Asia and the presiding Supreme court justices. Throughout the case, Muslim extremist groups have threatened and carried out violence. In March 2011, a government official who supported Asia’s case and publicly criticized the blasphemy laws was assassinated by a member of one such group. Now in light of the court’s ruling, fear of persecution among all Pakistani Christians is extremely high. The church is bracing themselves for attacks on their homes and churches. Certain offices and schools also have been closed. “Our staff members are concerned about their children,” said one local Christian, “especially the ones who attend a school with a Muslim majority. Pray that while they travel home, they are not recognized as Christians and won’t draw any attention.”
In the world’s sixth largest country and the fifth most dangerous country for Christians, believers who come from a Muslim background are targeted and seen as part of the downtrodden “untouchable” caste. They endure persecution from both the state and society. Radical Islamist groups see them as apostates; and their family, friends and neighbors see their conversion as shameful to the community. As a result, many Muslims refuse to drink and eat with them for fear of being defiled. And Christian women and girls live under a constant threat of abduction, rape and forced marriage. Tragically, Christian students who are forced to attend Muslim schools are often singled out and persecuted for their faith. Throughout the country, Christians are denied education, good-paying jobs and even public services like electricity and running water. The spread of Islamic extremism continues to grow with radical groups running thousands of madrasas (Islamic education centers) where youth are taught and encouraged to persecute religious minorities like Christians. Pakistan ranks 5th on the World Watch List for good reason.
Asia and her family are still in extreme danger. In a video message before the verdict, the chief cleric of a hardcore extremist group called upon his followers to “come out on the roads and be ready to do and die in case the verdict of Supreme Court came out in favor of Asia Bibi.” We can pray for her and her family’s protection as they make plans to leave the country amid so much hate.
This is also an extremely volatile time for all Pakistani Christians, which number around 4 million in a country of 196 million. The ruling in this case greatly heightens the threat of widespread violent persecution. Open Doors partners are calling it a “highly tense and threatening situation.” Local Christian leaders in Pakistan comment that Muslim extremist groups are “on high alert and will be watching for any way to increase the pressure against Asia, Christians and the church.” A local Christian in his office shared: “The situation is unfolding. I’m at my work and I see the rangers come in to take over security. Please pray for God’s mercy and wisdom and for God to do an amazing work in this land.”
More than ever before, Pakistani believers need to know they’re not alone.
November 1, 2018, will forever be the day after one of the most well-known prisoners in the world was released. Asia Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi, which means sister Asia) was arrested in June 2009 after a dispute with some Muslim women. She was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging in 2010. Ever since she was held on death row.
Most of the past eight years Asia Bibi has spent in solitary confinement. Most women in her prison wake up before 5 am for their morning prayers. The cells are unlocked at that time and a breakfast of tea and roti (Pakistani flatbread) is given to them.
Someone like Asia Bibi had to prepare her own meal with the little ingredients that were given to her. One reason she had to cook for herself was so that she wouldn’t be poisoned easily. After breakfast, most prisoners were allowed to wash. We don’t know if Asia was granted that privilege.
During the mornings the women had to perform their daily tasks such as cleaning. Some say Asia had to perform the most demeaning tasks, but it’s also possible she would have had to stay in her cell. Either way, every day was the same day in prison.
Now Asia is free, assuming that the Supreme Court’s order was carried out immediately. The authorities are not sharing any details about her whereabouts for her own safety. Her life may be threatened more than ever, especially if she is still in the country. In Pakistan, the media are not allowed to speculate on where she is.
Meanwhile, protests have erupted in many cities around Pakistan, and the government has a hard time controlling the situation. It prompted newly elected Prime Minister Khan to air a brief video message in which he warned groups who have railed against the Supreme Court’s ruling. Pakistan was founded “in the name of Islam” and the verdict given by the Supreme Court is in accordance with the Constitution, which is in line with the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah (traditional practice of the Islamic community based on the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad), Khan said. He sharply criticized the protests.
However, his words were not comforting to Christians.
“While watching the broadcast, I was waiting for him to say something sympatric to us,” a leader of Open Doors partner organization ALIVE said. “He [Khan] said this was costing the nation money and is bringing banks and working environments to a halt. He also said that the Supreme Court’s ruling is final. However, he did not once celebrate or say one word of rejoicing for Asia and he did not once call for the safety of minorities and he did not once speak to us to say ‘Do not fear.’ It was a cold, calculated speech. He was indifferent to Christians. He told the extremists to get off the road, but there was no warning against persecution of Christians.”
What do the extremists want, we asked this ALIVE representative.
“They want blood. So what will happen when they get off the road? We fear they will come to the churches and attack them. We have to trust in God. He is sovereign and our King,” she said.
Who will pay the price for Asia’s release? One argument over some water, a quick exchange of words, destroyed Asia’s life. Nine long years she was away from her family and locked up in a cold, hard prison. Her husband and children needed to hide. Her life will never be carefree.
The extremists want to avenge the ruling in the name of Islam. In their view, someone must pay for allowing Asia to go free. And it’s already happening, according to Pakistani Christians. A nurse in Pakistan told us, “Please pray for us. We are all being harassed mercilessly this morning. They are trying to distract us and say things while we administer meds or injections or other sensitive processes. Someone tampered with my kit this morning: they call us names and the stress is escalating. I am scared.”
The nurse later hid in the bathroom and called an ALIVE team member and prayed in whispers with her. She specifically asked for prayer for Christian nurses across the country.
“Yesterday I went to pick up my young son, Brian,” a Christian father shares. “I waited 15 minutes. Brian is always out of school waiting at the gate. This time he took 15 minutes to come out: he was so afraid. He was hiding in his classroom’s stationary cupboard. He waited until the kids were gone and then raced out to the gate. He didn’t know why the school was being called off for the day, but he heard the principal say ‘Christian kids need to go home.’”
“His teacher responded, ‘No, Christian kids can’t be the only ones to miss studies. Everyone must go home.’ Those 15 minutes were the longest of my life,” he says. “I was trembling while waiting for him. This Monday, when my son goes back to school, what world will he step into?”
In addition, we heard that a Christian teacher was thrown out of a taxi after the driver discovered she was a Christian. “I was on the phone with my husband,” she says, “I ended the call with ‘Jesus will keep you safe.’”
A Christian with a high position at a local institution was told by his superior to go home. “It was an official note that all Christians had to go home. Was it really for my safety? Or was it threat? Will I still have a job when I come back to work? I don’t know. All I could do was have a thanksgiving meal with my family to celebrate Asia’s release. I can only rejoice today. Tomorrow is in Jesus’ hands.’”
Kim Jong Un, the ruling chairman of North Korea, has continued many things started by his father and his grandfather.
He has continued a series of brutal labor camps that commit daily human rights atrocities.He has murdered political and cultural rivals. He has established himself as Supreme Leader and created a cult of personality around him and his family (throughout the country are more than 40,000 statues of the Kim family that must be cleaned and worshiped by the North Korean people).
And he has specifically targeted Christianity.
Although Kim recently extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit his country for what some say is part of a diplomatic effort to ease sanctions and military pressures, make no mistake. In his seventh year of power, the third leader of the Kim family and head of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) continues to lead a country with perhaps the world’s most egregious human rights record. It is the most dangerous country for Christians and has been No. 1 on Open Doors’ World Watch List for almost 20 years.
Christianity has a long, surprising history in North Korea. Before the end of World War II, there were more Christians in what is now North Korea than there were in modern-day South Korea. And Pyongyang had many churches—even known to some observers as the “Jerusalem of the East.”
Estimates vary about how many Christians are currently in North Korea, but Open Doors places the number around 300,000, most of whom operate in secret networks of house churches.
A 2014 UN report found that “The state considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the state.”
From birth until death, North Korean citizens are taught state propaganda. This means learning about the leaders of North Korea in elementary school, hearing propaganda on loudspeakers in homes and businesses and living under constant threat of imprisonment.
While technically resting on traditional communist thought, North Korea’s real political philosophy rests in an idea called “Juche.” The official website of the North Korean regime defines the concept as in a nutshell, “that the masters of the revolution and construction are the masses of the people, and that they are also the motive force of the revolution and construction.” In practice, this has translated to a brutal dictatorship that has stretched back decades, totally dependent on a single family for every aspect of culture and politics.
Christianity, of course, directly challenges the notion of any Supreme Leader and the idea that there is any master outside of Jesus Christ. Additionally, Christianity offers a new way and identity for people in North Korea. Both aspects of faith are direct threats to the ruling family of North Korea.
So why is Kim Jong Un so afraid of Christianity?
It’s likely because people who are following Jesus and who are committed to one another mean there are people he can’t control, and who follow a greater King. It means there are people who practice radical love for each other and for Jesus–who won’t so easily follow him and the lies of his regime.
This is why Christians continue to be seen as “dangerous” and are also part of the hostile class, according to the country’s social system called songbun. What this means is that anyone who is known to be a follower of Jesus is immediately assumed to be a hostile political figure.
One 2014 U.S. State Department report found that “ownership of Bibles or other religious materials is reportedly illegal and punishable by imprisonment and severe punishment, including, in some cases, execution.” And in a summary of a United Nations’ report, the International Bar Association’s 2017 study wrote that “Christians are heavily persecuted and receive especially harsh treatment in prison camps, with one former prison guard testifying that ‘Christians were reactionaries and there were lots of instructions . . . to wipe out the seed of reactionaries’” [emphasis added].
Open Doors estimates there are at least 50,000 Christians in camps, restricted villages, or otherwise imprisoned, many of whom are suffering under unthinkable conditions. Christians are treated with the same hostility that the Kim regime wields against those it deems as political, revolutionary or cultural threats.
One woman, Hannah (not her real name), and her family had escaped to China but were discovered and repatriated back to a North Korean prison camp. She describes what it was like to be a Christian there:
“Prisoners in solitary confinement were badly beaten up. Nobody dared to resist because you’d only make the torture worse. But my husband was different. The more they tortured him, the harder he defended his faith. He yelled at them: ‘If believing in God is a sin, I’d rather die! Just kill me! It’s my mission to live according to God’s will!’
“But each time he spoke out against them, they stripped him of his clothes and beat him as if he was an animal. His flesh was torn and ripped. When he lost consciousness, they woke him up and started again.
“When we got to the office [before our eventual release], there were two male prisoners. One I recognized as my son, but the other was in such a bad shape. I didn’t recognize my husband, and he didn’t recognize me. That’s how horrendous we looked from all the torture. His ribs and collarbone were broken so that he could not even stand up straight. But I realized it was him.
“[After our release], my husband suggested that I take my daughter first and go back to China. I did what he said and reached China with our daughter. One month went by. No word from my husband. Then, a second month, a third, a fourth … I waited three years. Then I found out that he had died shortly after we left. He was never able to overcome the pain and illnesses from prison. My son was too young to help him. So he died slowly, in pain.”
Please continue to join your brothers and sisters in North Korea in prayer. Pray for their strength in the face of a regime that views their faith as a special threat. Pray for God’s grace in every situation. And pray for a change in the hearts of the regime, that they would see the love of Jesus as the road to truth and peace.
You’ve probably heard that North Korea regards Christians and Christianity with significant suspicion. This has been the case for generations, as Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and, now, Kim Jong Un have all sought to consolidate power and a cult of personality around them and their family. The Kim dynasty works hard at displaying orchestrated appearances both to the North Korean people and the outside world. A facade that tends to keep natives and foreigners guessing about the country with one of the world’s worst human rights record.
Case in point–earlier this month Kim Jong Un sent an invitation to Pope Francis through South Korean President Moon Jae-in, saying the Pope would be “enthusiastically welcomed.” Pope Francis is now considering the invitation with reports indicating a “strong intention” to visit the officially atheist country.
So, what’s going on? Why is the regime—which rules over a country that has ranked No. 1 on the World Watch List for almost two decades—extending an invitation to a Catholic Christian leader?
Is this a change of heart for Kim Jung Un? An indication of something shifting in the closed country know for its isolation and fear tactics, especially toward Christians? Or is this a part of a North Korean culture known for its penchant to create facades in an attempt to tell a different story? A story radically different from the truth that has been credibly reported for decades?
To answer these questions, it’s important to look at the country’s historical context and the various ways the Kim regime works to create a fake image far different from reality.
One of the most blatant examples of North Korea manipulating appearances is what observers have called the country’s “show” churches, meaning they are places where the North Korean government makes a “show” to outsiders of allowing worship.
In total, North Korea has four churches—two Protestant, one Roman Catholic and one Russian Orthodox–inside the capital city of Pyongyang. Most of those church buildings were constructed in the 1980s, with the Russian Orthodox church most recently opening in 2006.
Most people who have gone to church there have found them to be more exercises in political propaganda than any true worship of God. Some of the photos taken inside these churches show large monitors projecting the sermons, similar to U.S. megachurches with multiple sites. Other photos show worshippers sparsely spread out in small groups among mostly empty pews.
In reality, congregants don’t know songs, sermons are more like political speeches, and there may not even be any actual ordained ministers or clergy to lead the congregations.
In an August 2017 interview, Chad O’Carroll, managing director of the Seoul-based news and analysis firm Korea Risk Group, told Fox News that these congregants and pastors are generally just hand-picked state workers whose vocation is to feign religion. The collection plates are passed through congregations and locals appear to donate as foreigners look on, but the plate ends up empty at the end.
“Guides often complain about having to go to church and put on the show because some diplomatic figure is in town,” he explained.
North Korean defector Joo-Eun echoes O’Carroll, telling Open Doors, “Yes, there are church services in North Korea but only when foreigners are present. The state calls up some locals to be present. There is no religious freedom in North Korea. People are simply killed if they believe in Jesus. Kim Jong Un is god, and there cannot be any god besides him.”
In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, no priest has been present in the country since the late 1940s. And the newest religious building, the Russian Orthodox church, is led by two men who were plucked from the North Korean intelligence .... They aren’t able to offer communion and seem to have very little idea of what they are supposed to believe.
The reasoning behind the building of the church is unclear. Reportedly Kim Jong II came up with the idea on a trip to Russia in 2002. There, he visited a Russian Orthodox church. The next year, he sent four young men to Moscow for spiritual training.
In 2006, Fyodor Kim, one of the church’s new Orthodox deacons at the time, admitted that it had been “very difficult” to adopt the Orthodox religion–but that he didn’t have much choice.
There is also a theological seminary in North Korea—Pyonyang Theological Seminary, which is run by the Korean Christian Federation (KCF). It trains church leaders for the KCF. Both are controlled by the government—the Kim regime dictates who will attend the seminary and what will be taught.
Also widely reported is the existence of a full-scale fake civilian village along the DMZ border between North Korea and South Korea. Named Kijong-dong, it’s also called Peace Village–and Propaganda Village. The lights go on an off, and the roads are periodically swept. But the windows have no glass, and there are no people living in this phony display built in the 1950s to lure potential defectors to North Korea.
Kijong-dong was built to impress. The costly blue-tiled roofs, and the electric power supply are meant to show luxury and success, especially at the time it was built.
Images from Google Earth show a town with three main centers, interspersed with farmland. Each center has rows of what appear to be very large houses or public buildings, many with large gardens.
The official North Korean position is that Kijong-dong is a thriving community, which contains a large collective farm (run by 200 families) and many social services, such as schools and a hospital. Yet reportedly, anyone on the border with a pair of binoculars can see that Kijong-dong is empty.
It’s another example of the great lengths North Korea goes to hide the truth.
Numerous reports from outside journalists and tourists indicate the country’s attempt to paint a pristine picture of peacefulness and freedom for those visiting the country. Reports offer descriptions of well-dressed government officials called “minders” who restrict reporters and visitors to meticulously staged presentations that inevitably center on praise for the Kim dynasty. Police will even detain and potentially expel any foreigner who tries to explore farther than the designated routes and the few hotels they are permitted to stay in.
A 2012 CBS News story describes what visiting reporters saw when their press bus took a wrong turn:
“A cloud of brown dust swirled down deeply potholed streets, past concrete apartment buildings crumbling at the edges. Old people trudged along the sidewalk, some with handmade backpacks crafted from canvas bags. Two men in wheelchairs waited at a bus stop. There were stores with no lights, and side roads so battered they were more dirt than pavement.”
“They’ve left very few stones unturned in North Korea,” Anthony Brunello, a professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, told CBS News. He has studied totalitarian propaganda methods and said North Korean officials will go to nearly any extreme to create a system that will keep the Kim family in power.
“They’ve managed to create a process of control that works,” he said.
Most foreign visitors to Pyongyang never encounter a pothole, a traffic jam or a piece of litter. They see no people with physical disabilities and no graffiti.
Further, a Russian documentary film called Under the Sun revealed the inner workings of how a propaganda film is made in North Korea. Initially intended as a portrayal of a happy family in North Korea, producers released a film that instead became a behind-the-scenes look at how North Korean authorities wield power to manipulate appearances.
And now, current ruler Kim Jong Un has initiated a visit from the Pope himself.
This actually isn’t the first time a pope has been invited to North Korea. Pope John Paul II was invited in 1991 and again in 2000. However, both times the Catholic leadership rejected the invitations, citing the fact that North Korea had expelled all priests—and likely because of North Korea’s notorious treatment of all Christians, including Roman Catholics.
Additionally, other Christian leaders have been invited to—and have gone—to North Korea. Billy Graham visited North Korea in 1992; his son, Franklin, most recently visited in 2009. The elder Graham even delivered a copy of his book, Peace With God, to Kim Il Sung, the ruling Kim at the time.
So what does all this mean?
The link that connects all the examples of North Korea’s seeming openness to religion can be summed up in one word: control. North Korea has no problem with religion or belief systems as long as those beliefs don’t mean the leadership isn’t challenged; the State is trusted above and beyond any other system; and worship is directed at the ruling Kim. Those things, of course, are contradictory to any religion, including Christianity.
Christians assert that believers live under the Kingship of Jesus Christ, that He is the only one worthy of worship and that our citizenship and membership in the Body of Christ is more important than any pledge to a government or system of power. That doesn’t play well in a regime dedicated to upholding the power of a single family and belief system above all else.
In reality, what seems to be freedom at first glance is actually anything but. The North Korean constitution might guarantee freedom of religion … but it goes on to say that religion must not challenge the State or bring in influence from any “foreign” powers. Which, of course, means that any religion challenging the full control of Kim Jong Un isn’t actually allowed.
While the North Korean constitution guarantees “freedom of religious beliefs,” that “freedom” exists only on paper.
North Korea knows what it’s supposed to say and do on the world stage to appear to be a place with human rights. And Kim Jong Un, like his father and grandfather, knows how to appear benevolent and gracious in the eyes of his people. But so far, North Korea’s efforts to offer freedom to worship Jesus are just empty showcases of how much control the government truly desires.
And the invitations to the Pope and to Billy Graham are likely part of this agenda—the ruler of North Korea is trying to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the world and to show his people how powerful he is, that even the leaders of other religions would meet with him. That’s likely why, in a retrospective about one of Billy Graham’s visits to North Korea, the official North Korea newspaper wrote that Graham called Kim Il ...“the God who rules today’s human world.”
This is, of course, nonsense, but gives you an idea of what the regime finds useful in these visits.
At Open Doors, we remain hopeful and encouraged that God can use anything—even invitations made in bad faith! Regardless of why Kim Jong Un is inviting Pope Francis to North Korea, it still offers a possibility for someone to speak God’s truth to a ruler who has brutally oppressed God’s people. It is a chance to raise the human rights atrocities of the Kim regimes to the very person responsible—and to ask for a change. It may be a meeting that God has orchestrated for such a time as this.
“Would a meeting between Pope Francis and Kim pave the way for desperately needed religious freedom in North Korea?” asks David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA. “No one can say for sure. But in challenging times, people of faith must act in faith. This meeting could be the small step the world has been waiting for that will lead to bigger steps toward improved human rights under the Kim regime.
“Respectfully, I say to Pope Francis, ‘go. Go and go boldly.’
“Have an open discussion with Kim, who has offered to warmly welcome you. Ask him to loosen the regulations that have suppressed the free expression of Christian faith and other religions. Ask him to allow you and other humanitarian partners to visit and assess the condition of religious prisoners in labor camps. Offer to connect Kim with advisors who can help North Korea shift its policies toward religious tolerance and create open distribution channels to make Bibles and other religious materials accessible. I implore you. Do not allow this rare opportunity to pass!”
In the meantime, pray with the Open Doors community for North Korea, asking God to soften Kim Jong Un’s heart. And pray for your brothers and sisters in North Korea, who risk everything to follow Jesus.
When Lee Joo-Chan was young, he knew his parents were different. Everybody called them “Communist parents” because they took care of the sick, the poor and the needy. He also remembers seeing his parents read from a secret book at night. He knows now it was part of their worship.
“They would 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.”
Thirty years later in China, Lee would finally discover his family’s secret faith. Now a pastor in South Korea, Lee is incredibly thankful for his courageous parents who risked their lives to worship and follow Jesus–and tell their son about their faith.
His parents are not alone in their boldness.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Christians in North Korea’s underground church estimated at 300,000, also find secret ways to worship Jesus and follow Him. In fact, because of the hardships and oppression they face, these believers often seek God intensely and risk their lives to worship Jesus—not unlike the early church that drew an ichthys in the ground with their feet as a symbol of their faith and secretly met together in catacombs.
In North Korea, there are also several kinds of underground church communities.
An Open Doors field rep explains: “You see someone outside, you know that other person is a brother, you look at each other. That’s all. That’s your entire service.”
Typically, this kind of church is hosted by a family who have one or more children. The family’s house is rarely, if ever, ideal for public gatherings. It usually has just one bedroom and a small living room. And, even if a group of people can cram into the small space, they must be vigilant about keeping the noise down. Neighbors easily pick up when something is going on as houses in North Korea are built close together and the walls of the structures are often thin.
It’s best when these families live near the woods so they can hide their copy of the Bible if they have one. Our field rep describes what worship is like for a local believer, not unlike Lee Joo-Chan remembers: “It’s after midnight. The two youngest children are sleeping. You sneak out, dig up your Bible and bring it back inside. The curtains are pulled and very, very softly do you read to your wife and 16-year-old son. You’ve only recently shared the gospel with him. Now he’s old enough and wise enough not to accidentally betray you. Of course, he didn’t understand the gospel at first, but you’re teaching him. You’ve been praying for years that he’d be ready.”
“You read the Bible in the dark, you pray, the words are hardly audible. Do you sing in whispers? When you’re in a bold mood.”
Believe it or not, North Korean Christians find ways to worship in the country’s notorious prison camps. There, a believer may be locked up with 40 others prisoners in a confined, uncomfortable space. There are usually wooden floors with many cracks that fill the room with ice-cold air in the winter and sweltering hot air in the summer. Lice and bugs get in too. But, our field rep says, there’s often “one brave Christian who shares the gospel with others and prays, knowing that she will be punished for that.”
In one of the darkest places on earth, North Korean prison camp survivor Hea-Woo chose to do something so radical, and so dangerous, but so Christlike. In the prison, God gave her a heart to tell her fellow prisoners about Jesus. And so, right there in the middle of a North Korean labor camp, a secret fellowship church began. Hea Woo recalls how God used her:
“The Bible verses that I’d recall from memory gave the others hope. They also saw the Spirit at work in me. I stood out among the other prisoners because I helped them. Sometimes I shared my rice with the sick. Occasionally, I washed their clothes, too.
“God used me to lead five people to faith. I tried to teach them the little I knew about Jesus. I didn’t have access to a Bible in the camp. But on Sundays and at Christmas, we met together out of the view of the guards. Usually, that was in the toilet. There we held a short service. I taught them the Bible verses and songs that I knew. We sang almost inaudibly so that no one would hear us.”
In all three of these types of worship gatherings, our field rep assures us there are people “risking their lives to distribute aid and support to and inside North Korea.”
“God has called us to do this work. The North Korean Christians are far more dedicated than us. In a sense, they are spiritually much stronger than we are. There are so many unknown heroes in North Korea, and they are able to withstand torture.”
Father, we come to You now, interceding for our brothers and sisters in North Korea. We thank you for these secret worshipers and their boldness to follow You in the face of persecution few of us can fathom. We ask that You would protect them as they find ways to worship You and catch glimpses that they’re not alone. Give them the prudent courage to read and speak Scripture and the discernment for when to be silent.
We pray for those who can only look at someone and know that they follow Christ like they do. We pray for these secret house gatherings and ask that You would give them beautiful moments together, that they would find both joy and solace in Your Scripture. Give believers supernatural ability to memorize Your Word and impart it.
And God, we pray now with the Christian prisoners, that they would find each other and be able to discreetly gather to hear Your Word, and that they would find ways to minister to those prisoners who don’t know You–drawing their cellmates to You. We ask right now, Father, that You would raise up the next generation of Hea Woos both inside and outside prison walls.
And finally, Lord, we plead for the freedom of our persecuted family in North Korea–that they would one day be able to read Your Word and gather freely to worship without fear.
In Your Son’s name, we ask these things… Amen.
During the 2018 International Day of Prayer this Sunday (Nov. 4), Open Doors is calling for 100,000 believers to stand with the underground church of North Korea.
Hea Woo watched her daughter die of starvation, her husband was killed for his faith and she herself was tortured for her faith in one of North Korea’s notorious prison camps.
Unfortunately, Hea Woo’s experience of being persecuted for following Jesus isn’t rare.
Every year, 215 million Christians face high levels of persecution in places hostile to Christianity. People like Hea Woo risk their lives and the lives of their families for their decision to follow Christ. Today, she allows God to use her story to motivate Christians throughout the world to pray for North Korea that has ranked #1 on the Open Doors World Watch List for 17 consecutive years indicating that it is the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian.
This year, Open Doors is standing with Hea Woo and the estimated 300,000 believers there for the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) on Sunday, Nov. 4. Each year during IDOP, Christians throughout the free world band together in solidarity with believers who live out their faith in the face of harassment, attacks, false imprisonment, and even death.
We at Open Doors are convinced that now is the time for Christians to come together to pray for North Korea. That’s why for IDOP 2018, we’re praying for 100,000 Christians who will commit to standing in prayer with the estimated 300,000 believers in the underground church of North Korea.
As the Body of Christ, we are called to pray with each other and for each other. In his first letter to the church of Corinth, the apostle Paul reminds us: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; If one member is honored, all rejoice together” (I Corinthians 12:26).
Open Doors Founder and God’s Smuggler author Brother Andrew reminds us of the power of our prayers, saying:
“Our prayers can go where we cannot … there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”
Both the difficult climate for Christians in North Korea and the rising global interest in this region have led Open Doors to call for Christians around the world to pray for North Korea. We believe that what is happening on the Korean peninsula illustrates that persecution is the issue of our time—and an issue on which those who follow Jesus cannot afford to be neutral.
Here are five ways to get involved in this year’s International Day of Prayer:
Watch the North Korea Prayer Webinar with Open Doors CEO David Curry and Pastor Min-Soo, a North Korean Christian who escaped the country and now serves as a pastor in South Korea. Click here to watch the recording of the North Korea Prayer Webinar.
You can pray specifically for the underground church of North Korea using these 10 Prayer Points. Download them here and share them.
You can read the prayers of hundreds of believers who are standing with North Korean Christian and also share your own prayer and picture to show you’re praying with this courageous underground church. Write your prayer here.
In addition to the upcoming online gathering, you can also learn about North Korea from believers who have bravely shared their stories with us to help us understand the need for prayer for our brothers and sisters. Read and watch the stories of prison camp survivor Hea Woo; Nari, who was trafficked escaping from North Korea; and Seojun, who escaped to China and found refuge—and Jesus—in an Open Doors safe house. Meet them here.
Sometimes a heartfelt encouragement that arrives on a tough day can literally be the touch of Jesus. Open Doors is currently organizing a radio ministry to broadcast your encouraging messages over the airwaves in North Korea. You can write a message that will be translated and read over the radio—a reminder to a believer that the world has not forgotten them. Learn more here.
A week after Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges, news sources are reporting the Christian woman who spent eight years on death row and has since been the center of widespread and violent Islamic protests has reportedly been released into protective custody and left the p... However, the foreign office has confirmed she is still in Pakistan.
The case is highly sensitive and Information Minister Fawad Hussein said journalists had been “extremely irresponsible” in reporting she had left the country without official confirmation.
Reportedly, an order for her release arrived Wednesday at the jail in the central city of Multan where she was held, a prison official told AFP. Asia was flown to the airport near Islamabad but was in protective custody because of threats on her life, three officials told Reuters.
According to a civil aviation official, the aircraft is registered in Pakistan and is therefore required to land in Islamabad. Another aviation official, in Multan, said a small plane arrived in the city with “a few foreigners and some Pakistanis” on board to fetch Bibi.
Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Mulook, who fled the country after the Supreme Court ruling and this week sought asylum in the Netherlands confirmed that she was no longer in prison. Speaking from the Netherlands to an AFP reporter, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, Mulook said, “I have been told that she is on a plane, but nobody knows where she will land.”
Also on Nov. 7, the president of the European Parliament tweeted that Asia had left the prison and had been transferred to a safe place.
#AsiaBibi has left the prison and has been transferred to a safe place! I thank the Pakistani authorities. I look forward meeting her and her family, in the European Parliament as soon as possible.
Asia’s conviction was overturned by the country’s highest court on October 31, but she has remained in prison in Multan.
Since the landmark case was overturned, Islamic protesters led by the TLP hardliner party (a rising political party with Islamic ideology and known for organizing widespread street protests related to the blasphemy law) have called for Asia’s death–even threatening the Supreme Court judges who ruled in her favor, saying they “deserved to be killed.”
For three days, they led thousands of Muslim extremists in violent protests throughout major cities across Pakistan, blocking Islamabad’s main highway, barricading roads in Karachi and Lahore, and forcing closures of schools and businesses.
Christians have felt especially threatened. The extremists want to avenge the ruling in the name of Islam. In their view, someone must pay for allowing Asia to go free. Last week after the ruling, one of our local ministry partners voiced specific fears:
“[The extremists] want blood. So what will happen when they get off the road? We fear they will come to the churches and attack them. We have to trust in God. He is sovereign and our King,” she said.
TLP leader Qari Muhammad Salaam also filed a petition for a judicial review of the Supreme Court’s ruling, hoping to see the judges’ decision overturned. Late last week, in an effort to end the protests, Pakistan’s government struck a deal with the TLP, agreeing to specific demands, including a travel ban on Asia that prohibited her from leaving the country and to not challenge Salaam’s appeal. A TLP spokesman said her release violated a deal with the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to end the protests.
It is unknown at this point how extremists within Pakistan will respond to her release from prison. Our local ministry partners have called for an outpouring of prayer for Asia and the situation in Pakistan. The fact that this news of her leaving the prison came out, is very dangerous for her and her family.
“These developments require us to seek God, interceding on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Pakistan,” an Open Doors spokesperson said. “It is of the utmost importance that we pray and seek protection for Asia, her family and those protecting her and seeking her freedom.”
We can also pray with Christians in Pakistan that are already targets in a country that’s 96 percent Muslim. Christians in the country have told our partners that they are being harassed in their jobs. Last week, one believer shared how persecution is affecting his young son at school.
“Yesterday I went to pick up my young son, Brian,” a Christian father shares. “I waited 15 minutes. Brian is always out of school waiting at the gate. This time he took 15 minutes to come out: he was so afraid. He was hiding in his classroom’s stationery cupboard. He waited until the kids were gone and then raced out to the gate. He didn’t know why the school was being called off for the day, but he heard the principal say ‘Christian kids need to go home.’”
“His teacher responded, ‘No, Christian kids can’t be the only ones to miss studies. Everyone must go home.’ Those 15 minutes were the longest of my life,” he says. “I was trembling while waiting for him.”
Below are specific prayer points our on-the-ground partners have shared: