One of the first things Eric Foley, the co-founder of Seoul USA, learned about the North Korean underground church is that it is not a group to be pitied. About 10 years ago Foley asked a member of the underground church how he could pray for them. He recalls the North Korean’s response, “You, pray for us? We pray for you … because South Korean and American churches believe challenges in the Christian faith are solved by money, freedom, and politics. It’s only when all you have is God do you realize God is all you need.”
Foley estimates about 100,000 Christians live in North Korea, with about a third of them in concentration camps. Unlike the Chinese underground church, North Korean Christians can’t risk gathering together because spies are everywhere. Instead, they worship in their own household or in the common areas, like while walking down the road out of earshot.
As North Korea fell under Communist rule after World War II, Christians realized they would soon face intense persecution. Some escaped to South Korea, where they could worship freely, but those who stayed chose four foundational pillars of Christianity they could pass on to future generations: theology through the Apostle’s Creed, prayer through the Lord’s Prayer, ethics through the Ten Commandments, and worship through the Lord’s supper. At least one of these elements is present in each of the North Korean underground churches.
To learn more about the Bible, Christians who are able to leave the country on work trips meet with missionaries and memorize Scripture to share with others. Physical copies of the Bible are rare for poor households, as government officials regularly check their homes. If officials find a Bible, the government will send the family to concentration camps or kill them.
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