Date:  October 18, 2023

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 715 

- 2000 more, in detention awaiting deportation.
By Elizabeth Kendal

North Korea (NK) is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. The Kim dynasty must be worshipped and obeyed; consequently, Christianity is treated as a political crime. Furthermore, ‘reactionary thought’ is punished with imprisonment or death. Anyone found in possession of a Bible or in attendance at a prayer gathering will be either publicly executed, or sentenced to hard labour in a prison labour camp. Sentences can range from 15 years to life, with punishment not limited to the person found guilty, but extended to three generations of the immediate family. Public executions are common. Christians not currently struggling to endure horrendous prison labour camps, endure prayerfully as secret believers. [See: RLPB 697, ‘All for Jesus. even in death’, 14 June 2023; and ‘North Korea: Sang Chul’, a short (7 min) film by Voice of the Martyrs Korea (VOMK), based on a true story.]

Screenshot from ‘North Korea: Sang Chul’.
(View at VOMK or YouTube)

Despite the persecution, the Church survives and is believed to number between 100,000 and 400,000 (1-2 percent of the population); most are Protestant. In his October 2021 report, the then UN special rapporteur on North Korea estimated that, while there are no known Catholic priests inside NK, some 300 Protestant pastors and five Russian Orthodox priests are ministering in the country [US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom 2022].

Most Koreans who flee NK have been driven to desperation by starvation brought on by the regime’s failed policy of socialism with ‘self-reliance’ (near total isolation). If they make it across the border into China, NK defectors will likely encounter Christian South Korean, Korean American, and Chinese missionaries who have established a vast network of safe houses where NK defectors receive assistance and Gospel witness. [See: RLPB 609, Desperate for a Breakthrough, 4 Aug 2021 and ‘The Spy’, a short (4 min) film by Open Doors, on safehouse ministry in China]. Pyongyang deems defection as ‘treachery against the nation’, a crime deserving detention with hard labour or even death. Despite this, Beijing refuses to recognise NK defectors as refugees. When NK defectors are caught in China – which is easy with facial recognition technology being so pervasive – they are arrested and forcibly repatriated under a 1986 bilateral border protocol.

Screenshot from 'The Spy'.
(View at Open Doors or YouTube)
In January 2020 North Korea closed its borders ostensibly to keep COVID 19 out of the country. With the borders closed, NK defectors arrested in China could not be repatriated, but were instead held in detention. In August 2023, NK started to relax its border restrictions. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (12 Oct), ‘Chinese authorities forcibly repatriated 80 North Koreans on August 29 and 40 others on September 18 …’ Then, on Monday 9 October, the day after the close of the Asian Games (a quadrennial event held this year in Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang Province, from 23 September to 8 October) China forcibly repatriated nearly 600 NK defectors. According to The Korea Times (15 Oct), a further 2000 detainees remain in detention awaiting deportation.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports (16 Oct), ‘Most of the defectors were civilians and religious figures who were attempting to travel to South Korea from China.’ An official from the J.M. Missionary Union, which works to rescue North Koreans, told RFA that the detainees had been arrested during the COVID pandemic. It seems Beijing and Pyongyang had agreed that, to avoid protests and negative media coverage, the mass deportation would take place after the Asian Games. The J.M. Missionary Union official told RFA: ‘At around 7:30pm local time on the 9th of this month, after dark, the repatriation was secretly carried out through various Chinese customs offices along the border between North Korea and China.’ Stephen Kim, an underground missionary told Human Rights Watch that the detainees were transported in truck convoys to more than five separate border crossings. We can assume that many will have heard the Gospel, some will be Christian, and all will be returning to imprisonment, hard labour, torture and possibly death. Lord have mercy!


  • protect, sustain and richly bless North Korea’s long-suffering and severely persecuted remnant Church.
    -Dear Father, please hide NK’s secret believers ‘in the shadow of your wings’; shield them from those who would betray, arrest or murder them. And please dear Father, protect, defend, sustain and liberate all believers currently incarcerated in NK labour camps where brutality, torture and starvation are the norm. Lord have mercy!

‘Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.’ (from Psalm 57)

  • infiltrate and redirect the hearts and minds of the increasing number of North Koreans who are turning to traditional ancestor worship and ancestral rites in the desperate hope that ancestral spirits [that are in reality demonic spirits] might provide relief. As trust in the Kim regime evaporates, may the Lord, in grace and mercy, reveal himself to be alive, gracious, supreme and faithful – in answer to the prayers of many.
  • bring openness, liberty and healing to North Korea. ‘… with God all things are possible’ (Jesus, in Matthew 19:26 ESV).