North Korea is regularly named as the worst country in the world in which to be a Christian. The desperate condition of Christians in this isolated, oppressed and starving country has not improved under its new ruler. Kim Jong-Un was named as leader of the country after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011.
Although restrictions on some aspects of secular life, such as bans on Western foods, have since been lifted, religious activity remains tightly controlled, and Christianity is particularly feared by the authorities.
It was first introduced to Korea by missionaries in the late 18th century, and the country was once one of the most Christianised in Asia. However, in 1945 the north of the Korean Peninsula was occupied by the then Soviet Union, and this territory soon became the new nation of North Korea, under Stalinist rule. In 1948, President Kim Il-Sung introduced the principle of Juche (self-reliance), and although the constitution and other laws and policies claim to protect religious freedom, in practice religious activity is severely restricted by the government. Genuine religious freedom does not exist.
North Koreans are expected to follow the principles of Juche, which is effectively a cult of personality designed to deify Kim Il-Sung (the grandfather of Kim Jong-Un). Those who are considered to have acted against this ideology are harshly punished.
It is illegal to be a Christian or take part in any Christian activity; three generations of a family may be imprisoned as punishment for one member of the family owning a Bible, for example. It is estimated that 70,000 Christians are currently languishing in prison labour camps, where they are brutally treated, tortured and worked to death. Escape is very difficult from these nightmarish camps, where prisoners are given so little food that some starve to death. Some are executed.
There are thought to be at least 400,000 Christians living in North Korea and, as all things are possible with God (Mark 10:27), the Church there is growing remarkably despite this severe oppression.
Christian life in North Korea is 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.