North Korea

Christian life inNorth Koreais sustained through hundreds of underground churches. These are supported by refugees who have come to faith in neighbouring countries and have returned to share the Gospel in their homeland.

The punishments for being a Christian and taking part in religious activity (outside the government’s few “show churches”) range from fines to imprisonment and even execution. The prison camps are notorious for brutal treatment and torture, sometimes to death. Ownership of Bibles is illegal. It is believed that one in five Christians is in a prison camp, and that as many as 400 a year are executed. The Christian faith is particularly feared by the authorities, as a threat to the dominant ideology of Juche (self-reliance), which has almost the status of a religion.

Christianity is a fairly new arrival on the Korean scene. It was first introduced by missionaries in the late eighteenth century. Despite a ban and persecution by the government, a hundred years laterKoreahad become one of the most Christianised countries inAsia. But in 1945 the north of theKoreanPeninsulawas occupied by the then Soviet Union, and this territory soon became the new nation ofNorth Korea, under Stalinist rule.

In 1948 Kim Il-Sung became president and introduced the principle of Juche. All religions were outlawed, and in the face of savage repression the number of Christians initially declined. But a presence remained, and remarkably the Church appears now to be growing. A recent estimate put its membership at between 200,000 and 400,000 people.