WASHINGTON — A North Korean defector detailed what it’s like to live as a Christian in North Korea, telling President Donald Trump and the State Department's religious freedom ministerial about the execution of his cousin's family for sharing the Gospel.
Illyong Ju was among nearly 30 survivors of religious persecution who met with the president at the White House last Wednesday. Hours beforehand he shared his story and those of other North Korean defectors with media gathered at the Harry S. Truman building.
Ju was born in North Korea in 1996 and was the youngest of three children. He said that throughout his childhood, his parents listened to foreign radio broadcasts for over 10 years, an illegal act in the authoritarian country led by the controlling Kim regime.
According to the State Department, listening to the radio inspired the family to seek a new-found faith. Later, Ju’s parents decided it would be best to defect from North Korea so they could be free to live out their beliefs.
Ju’s father fled to South Korea in the mid-2000s. About a year later in 2008, Ju and his mother and sister fled together. They joined their father in South Korea in 2009 after a long journey. The family settled in Seoul and in 2012, Ju’s oldest sister joined them and completed their family’s reunification.
“After we came to Seoul we had kind of a hard time in South Korea,” Ju said. “After recovering, we decided that we hope to spread the love from God to people in South Korea.”
Ju told reporters about what other defectors have told him after escaping from North Korea and serving time in the regime’s notorious political prison camps or general prisons.
“If you refer to the remarks of the escapees, the conditions are very severe,” he said. “For example, the females, they are not provided any medication when they are giving birth. They forcefully have to lose their babies. In terms of food or provision, they are only given a very small portion of corn.”
“For example, if there is a scar or hurting in skin, there is no medication. They have to use the insects out of the dead bodies and dry them and put them on as a medication,” he detailed.
Ju told reporters that his aunt’s entire family was thrown into a political prison camp just because her aunt’s father-in-law was a Christian.
“It was my cousin’s family, they were all executed for sharing the Gospel,” Ju added.
He said that three leaders of the church who were responsible for missions in North Korea were also sent to political prison camps.
North Korea has for the last 18 years ranked as the worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List. Thousands upon thousands of North Koreans are imprisoned in these camps either for being Christian, speaking out against the regime, or trying to defect from the country.
Despite thousands being imprisoned and tortured for their faith, Ju said Christian activities are still happening inside prison camps.
“According to my co-worker who is now living in [South] Korea, when she was in prison, she couldn’t sing or voice up her Christianity,” he said. “But she was able to make a couple of people inside a prison believe in [Christ] and with silence. With eye-to-eye contact, they were able to convey [the Gospel]. She said that her experience there in prison, even though her situation was difficult, she felt like she was in Heaven.”
In the meeting with Trump, Ju told the president that regardless of the situation, North Koreans are still worshiping.
“Even though the persecution of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean citizens, they want the Gospel and they want to worship now,” Ju assured Trump. “They are worshiping in underground churches right now.”
Ju stressed that he wants the world to know about the persecution happening to the North Korean people.
At the ministerial, Vice President Mike Pence said in his speech last Thursday that the persecution happening in North Korea is worse than what is going in neighboring China, where Christians, Uighurs, Buddhists, Falun Gong and other religious minorities are being persecuted by the communist government in horrifying ways.
In fact, it has been estimated that 1 million to possible 3 million Uighur Muslims in Western China have been abducted by the Chinese communist government and detained in internment camps.
“And for all of the challenges that believers face in China, North Korea’s treatment of people of faith is much worse,” Pence said. “As the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reported, ‘the violations of human rights in the DPRK … constitute crimes against humanity … the gravity, scale, and nature of which has no parallel in the contemporary world.’”
“The North Korean regime formally demands that its officials act to ‘wipe out the seed of [Christian] reactionaries’ through torture and murder. Possession of a Bible is a capital offense,” Pence said.
“As President Trump continues to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea and lasting peace, the United States will continue to stand for the freedom of religion of all people of all faiths on the Korean peninsula.”
According to the State Department, the ministerial was attended by representatives from over 106 nations, around 30 foreign minister-level government officials, nearly 1,000 religious leaders and civil society activists as well as the more than two dozen survivors of religious persecution.