- (Photo: Reuters/KCNA)
As North Korea's official news agency ramped up its rhetoric and declared on Thursday the possibility of war breaking out "today or tomorrow" with the West, Christians living in the oppressive communist country have verified that preparations for war are being made around the clock, and are asking fellow believers worldwide to pray.
"The military army, navy, air force troops, strategic rocket troops, the red guards and the red youth guards are already in combat mode. Urgent meetings are being held everywhere, regardless if it is day or night. At those meetings, officials make decisions on what needs to happen in case war breaks out and everyone, including women, needs to be combat ready," a local church leader has said of the situation, according to persecution watchdog Open Doors USA.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un said in a message to the people, according to Open Doors' sources, that "If war breaks out because of the actions of the U.S. and puppet South Korean's unpardonable behavior, they will end up with a disgraceful downfall, and our people will greet a brilliant new day of reunification. The day has come to show off the power of 'Military First' and our great nation to the whole world."
In response to the intense situation, many locals, including Christians, have been stockpiling what food and supplies they can afford, said Open Doors' sources. However, faith remains high among believers, with one North Korean Christian telling the watchdog agency, "We know that our journey will not be an easy one, but we are sure that our faith, desperate hope and passionate desire will some day bear many fruit."
"No matter how difficult life is for us, we never blame or complain about our circumstances. God has promised us in the Bible that if we seek His Kingdom first, all other things will be given to us as well. Please pray for us," the person added.
According to Open Doors, an estimated 200,000-400,000 North Koreans secretly believe in Jesus Christ, with 60,000-80,000 said to be living in the communist country's notorious labor camps. The nonprofit organization has consistently ranked the Asian country as the leading persecutor of Christians for the past decade, a view supported by the Pew Research Center.
"North Korea is [the] ONLY country Pew Research cannot rate on religious freedom due to lack of on-the-ground observers in [the] secretive regime," wrote Senior Pew Researcher Brian J. Grim this week on the country's atrocious religious freedom record. While on-the-ground sources are lacking, Grim pointed to assessments from several organizations, such as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF reported in its 2012 findings on international religious freedom that the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) "remains one of the world's most repressive regimes, with a deplorable human rights and religious freedom record."
While the U.S. government insists North Korea lacks any real nuclear or missile capability to carry out long-range strikes against Western targets, as it has vowed to do, the Obama administration has nonetheless shored up support on the Korean Peninsula and Guam should Pyongyang direct attacks against its allies, such as South Korea or Japan.
In a report transmitted Thursday by North Korea's KCNA news agency, the government continued its threats, announcing that the military had been cleared to strike U.S. targets using "smaller, lighter and diversified" nuclear weaponry, the Gaurdian reports.
"The moment of explosion is approaching fast. No one can say a war will break out in Korea or not and whether it will break out today or tomorrow," said KCNA, according to CNN. "The responsibility for this grave situation entirely rests with the U.S. administration and military warmongers keen to encroach upon the DPRK's sovereignty and bring down its dignified social system with brandish logic."
The fresh war of words, common for North Korea when faced with increasing pressure over its restricted nuclear pursuits, started in recent months after the country was criticized for test-firing a rocket and testing a nuclear bomb against United Nations-imposed sanctions. Joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, a routine practice, has also elicited aggression from Pyongyang. After the KCNA message Thursday, the North Korean military reportedly moved its mid-range missile launchers to its eastern coast.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has slammed dictator Kimg Jong-un's "provocation," calling the recently-installed leader's actions "dangerous and reckless."
"And I reiterate again the United States will do what is necessary to defend ourselves and defend our allies, Korea and Japan. We are fully prepared and capable of doing so, and I think the DPRK understands that," said Kerry in a recent press briefing with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
Jerry Dykstra, Open Doors USA's spokesman, said that in addition to praying for underground Christians in the country, people should also pray for Kim Jong-un, whom state ideology portrays as a deity, "that God will work in his heart and he will pursue peace and not war."
Open Doors previously noted that when Kim Jong-un, 30, came to power as supreme leader in December 2011 after his father Kim Jong-Il died, the government has noticeably "stepped up attempts to uncover religious activities with more house raids, more spies trained and dispatched for various operations including targeting South Korean Christians…"
In his statement Thursday, Dykstra suggested that Christians continue to pray for persecuted believers in North Korea whose plight may have become even more dangerous now with the talk of war.
"Finally, pray that no matter what happens Christians will remain strong in their faith," Dykstra added.