(Photo: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won)
As North Korea plans a national celebration for the 100th birthday of the late Kim Il-sung on Sunday, Open Doors, an international Christian ministry which serves persecuted believers, is mobilizing Christians around the world to participate in a day of prayer.
While much of the world's media focused on North Korea's potentially dangerous rocket launch this week, Open Doors wants to bring attention to the country that has been ranked No. 1 on the ministry's World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians for the last ten years.
"Even with the media attention that the rocket launch is getting, not many are paying attention to the fate of the people inside North Korea, especially Christians," Open Doors USA Media Director Jerry Dykstra told The Christian Post on Thursday. "They have been virtually ignored. We want to get people praying and advocating for them."
According to Open Doors, North Korean state propaganda reads: "On April 15th, known as 'Day of the Sun' to the Korean people, mass celebrations will take place in Pyongyang and other cities in the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). These will be colorful and vibrant. Throughout the world from Lima to Tokyo meetings, seminars and events will take place. To be in Pyongyang on the Day of the Sun is simply a wonderful experience without parallel."
Dykstra said that Christians throughout the world should know the full truth about North Korea.
"When you get away from the bright lights of Kim Jong-un it's a pretty miserable picture," he explained. "There's forced abortions, infanticide … a purge of whole families just because of one person being arrested for perhaps saying the name of Jesus or having a Bible. There's a reason for them being number one on the Open Doors watch list for 10 years in a row."
Officially there is freedom of religion in North Korea, Open Doors states. "In practice, civilians do not have any rights. There is no freedom to build churches or to worship in homes. Possession of a Bible or Christian materials is illegal and punishable by death. The proclamation of the Gospel is strictly forbidden. Christian parents can't even share their beliefs with their children until they are old enough to understand the dangers. Christians are viewed as 'a danger to society' or 'spies of the traitorous West.'"
"For Christians inside North Korea their fear has increased as the government has mandated all the people to bow down to the gods of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un and participate in the celebration," says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "So scrutiny of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 brave underground Christians has increased during the last few months. Some have been thrown into prisons. There are 50,000 to 70,000 Christians of the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people living under horrific conditions in those prisons. Also, many North Koreans are chronically malnourished and unemployed.
"But we know that the Christians living under the most brutal regime in the world will be celebrating the true 'Son' Jesus Christ in their hearts. Please show your solidarity with Christians there by praying and fasting for them this Sunday and beyond," Moeller requested in a statement released this week.
Dykstra told CP that it is time for Christians to educate others and become advocates for those suffering atrocities at the hands of the North Korean leadership.
"If the U.S. government is not going to raise these issues, we need to as Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ. As they celebrate the 'Day of the Sun,' we pray that some day in the future it will be the day of the 'Son' Jesus. That's our hope and prayer," he said.
To show "One With Them" unity with its brothers and sisters in North Korea, Open Doors USA is providing resources at http://www.worldwatchlist.us/pray-for-north-korea/. People can sign up to receive hourly tweets on Sunday, prayer points and other materials. The Open Doors USA Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/opendoorsfans?ref=share will also feature North Korea, including the tweets.
In addition to the call for prayer on Sunday, global partners will join together in prayer during North Korea Freedom Week April 23-29. To register to receive information and how to participate in both events, sign up at http://www.worldwatchlist.us/pray-for-north-korea/ or go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
"The North Korean church has often expressed its gratitude for the worldwide prayer of so many people for so many years," said Moeller. "North Korean Christians believe God will bring about changes in their circumstances as long as people keep praying. It is a tremendous encouragement for them to know they are not alone."
Dykstra added, "The good news is that out of bleakness comes hope and despite everything that the government of the 'Kims' does, the Gospel is still reaching people. People have obviously gone underground, but the Christians there really have a passion for spiritual substance even though they are not getting any actual real food substance."