Melanie Kirkpatrick asks us to take a moment as we celebrate the joy of Christmas to spare a thought and offer a prayer for North Korea's Christians:
Spare a thought on Christmas Eve for Christians who live in countries where practicing their faith is an act of courage. Nowhere is that more true than in North Korea, where religion is banned. The only permissible worship is that of the trinity of Kim family dictators—the late Eternal President Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il (who died last year), and current leader Kim Jong Eun.
How dangerous is it for Christians in North Korea? In a report this year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom describes "the arrest, torture and possible execution" of Christians, Buddhists and others conducting clandestine religious activity in the North. It cites several widely reported cases of persecution of Christians, including the public execution in 2009 of Ri Hyon Ok for the crime of distributing Bibles. In keeping with the regime's policy of punishing wrongdoers' families, Ri's husband and three children reportedly were dispatched to a political prison.
The commission report also describes how 23 Christians were arrested in 2010 for belonging to an underground Protestant church. Three were executed and the rest were jailed. The commission estimates there are thousands of Christians among the 150,000 to 200,000 North Koreans incarcerated in the regime's infamous political prison camps.
Yet despite this repression, something is happening that many characterize as nothing short of a miracle: Christianity appears to be growing in North Korea. Open Doors International, which tracks the persecution of Christians world-wide, puts the number of Christians in North Korea at between 200,000 and 400,000.
North Korean Christians necessarily worship in secret. Many of the congregations are small family units consisting of just a husband and wife and, when they are old enough to keep a secret, their children. Other times a handful of Christians form a kind of congregation in motion. A worker for Open Doors explains how it works: "A Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it is dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough."