North Korean Christians do not actually view their country as the worst place in the world to be a Christian, a ministry argues, and instead embrace their suffering as a means to show they are ambassadors of Christ.
"Our reckoning that North Korea is the worst place to be a Christian says more about our own understanding of Christianity than it does about North Korea," the Rev. Eric Foley, CEO of Seoul USA, said Tuesday.
The ministry, founded as a nonprofit in the U.S. and a non-governmental organization in South Korea, mobilizes people to reach out to underground churches in North Korea.
Although persecution watchdog groups often identify the severe suffering North Korean believers endure, Foley argued that they feel that their existence is for a "divine purpose." He offered a top 10 list of how North Korean Christians feel about their situation.
"If you are a Christian in a country where no Christians are suffering for Jesus you probably ought to be more concerned than if you are a Christian in a country where nearly every Christian is suffering for Jesus," he says, listing one reason.
"Christians are ambassadors. If one truly understands one's identity as an ambassador, one glories in that identity rather than grumbling about the country where one got posted," he adds.
North Korea was ranked as the No. 1 most oppressive country in the world for Christians for the past 12 years on Open Doors' annual World Watch List.
The group has said that the persecution Christians there experience is due largely to communist oppression and dictatorial paranoia.
In February, the U.N. also published an extensive report detailing the "unspeakable atrocities" committed in North Korea, including mass starvation and extermination. It also noted the persecution religious minorities endure.
Nevertheless, North Korean refugees have told Open Doors that they have seen firsthand people turning to God.
"People really question if God is at work in North Korea. How can they ask such a question?" said one Christian refugee, identified as Hana.
"Of course God is at work! Of course prayers help. I am such a weak person. I hardly had any Bible knowledge, but God used me to explain the Gospel to others. Sometimes, God sent me on the road. I clothed my six-month-old baby, fastened him on the back and I walked for miles and miles and miles," she continued.
"Until I saw some stranger and I knew this was the person I needed to talk to. Because of him or her God had sent me out on the road. I said what I needed to say and went home. Do you think that would be possible without God? Please, tell your friends that they need to continue to pray. God is answering their prayers."
Seoul USA did not respond to a request for comment by press time.