1728) The Christians of North Korea

Jerusalem of the East The American Christians of Pyongyang, 1895-1942

Missionary from Pyongyang with a 1913-15 Harley-Davidson on a river ferryboat near Haeju, 60 miles south of Pyongyang and just north of the 38th Parallel (United Methodist Archives & Historical Center)


By Eric Metaxas and Stan Guthrie, at http://www.breakpoint.org, September 15, 2017

     Anyone who knows anything about world missions and the global church knows about the Christians of South Korea.  According to the Operation World prayer guide, “From the first Protestant church planted in 1884, South Korea now has possibly 50,000 Protestant congregations,” and 15 million Christians of all kinds.  It’s also a missionary powerhouse, currently sending more than 21,000 missionaries to about 175 countries. Amazing!

     But the Christians of North Korea?  They’re virtually invisible—though of course not in the eyes of the Lord Jesus.  Operation World says that although no one really knows their true number, there could be as many as 350,000 underground Christians living in the slave state of 24 million people.  When you consider that the government there—whether run by the Japanese occupiers during World War II, or the current cult-like, totalitarian leadership—has been trying to stamp out all vestiges of Christianity for about 70 years, that’s also amazing.

     Tragically, and infuriatingly, up to 100,000 of these brothers and sisters in Christ are locked up in harsh prisons or work camps.

     Where did they all come from, and how do they survive?  Well, in answer to the first part, it’s a fascinating story.  Did you know that from the late 19th century until 1942, Pyongyang, North Korea’s Orwellian capital city today, was known as the “Jerusalem of the East”?

     According to Providence journal, “a Presbyterian medical doctor named Horace Allen … became physician to the king of Korea and received royal permission to proselytize after saving the life of a royal family member severely wounded during an attempted coup.  Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries from the United States followed, and along with Catholic and other Protestant missionaries from other countries, they found Koreans to be receptive to their message in large numbers.  A quarter of a century later in 1910, Korean Christians numbered over 200,000, two thirds of them Presbyterians and Methodists, in a country of approximately 13 million people.”

     If the city of Seoul was receptive to the gospel, and it was, Pyongyang was even more so.  Following a series of revivals in and around the “Jerusalem of the East,” by 1910 the region was the most heavily Christian in all of Korea.

     Of course, most of us know what happened next.  After World War II, the communist regime of Kim Il-sung attempted to stamp out all foreign religions, especially Christianity, which was branded a tool of “Western imperialism.”  Missionaries were thrown out, churches closed, and many Christians executed for their faith, with many more pouring into democratic South Korea at the end of the Korean War.

So how do those who remain survive?  As with all of us, by God’s grace.  Today, Open Doors USA reports, North Korea is the most oppressive place in the world for Christians.  “Due to ever-present surveillance,” the agency says, “many pray with eyes open, and gathering for praise or fellowship is practically impossible.  Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed.  Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps.”

     It’s no wonder that one North Korean Christian lady who escaped continues to pray a simple prayer she learned from her mother: “Lord, Lord, please help!”

     And the Lord, through agencies such as Open Doors, is answering that prayer, providing Bibles and emergency relief inside the country as well as to fleeing North Korean Christians.  They’re not invisible to Him—and now, I hope, not to us, either.


See also:

Jerusalem of the East: The American Christians of Pyongyang, 1895-1942
Robert S. Kim | Providence magazine | July 13, 2016
About North Korea
World Watch List | Open Doors
Prayer Guide for North Korea
Operation World
I Peter 3:12  —  The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
I Peter 4:12-16  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Hebrews 13:3  —  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.


A prayer for persecuted Christians from Release Internation: Voice of Persecuted Christians, at http://www.releaseinternational.org:

Sovereign God, we worship you and acknowledge that you know all of those who suffer in your name1.  We remember those who are imprisoned for their faith2 and ask that they would join with the Apostle Paul to see that even though they remain captive, their chains have furthered the gospel, not frustrated it3.  May they inspire and embolden their fellow believers to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly4.

God of all comfort, for those who are tortured both in body and mind, give them the grace to endure and to see their suffering as part of following in Christ’s footsteps5.

Merciful God, for those asked to pay the ultimate price; who are martyred because of their love for you, may they truly know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death6.

Father God, for those who are widowed and orphaned may they know the comfort that comes from your promised presence7 even when they walk through the valley8.  May they be strengthened by your Spirit, enabling them to rejoice with the psalmist as they proclaim that the Lord will not abandon them in death9.

Heavenly Father, we ask that you would make us ever mindful of our brothers and sisters around the world who need us to stand with them10 as they suffer in your name.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.



1. Romans 5:3, Romans 8:17-18, 1 Corinthians 12:26, 2 Corinthians 1:5-11
2. Hebrews 13:3, Colossians 4:18
3. Philippians 1:12-13
4. Philippians 1:14
5. Romans 15:5-6, 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 11-12
6. Philippians 3:10
7. Deuteronomy 31:8, Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5
8. Psalm 23:4
9. Psalm 16:10
10. Hebrews 13:3