President Trump shocked the world last week when he accepted North Korea's invitation for direct talks with Kim Jong-un, to be held in May. We were less shocked when China's government voted yesterday to make Xi Jinping president for life.
Both developments carry enormous implications for Christians in these two countries and for the larger body of Christ around the world.
North Korean Christians risk their lives for Jesus
Let's start with North Korea. Some analysts believe that talks between the two leaders are a positive step forward; others are far more skeptical.
In a previous article, I gave a brief overview of North Korea's history and its drive for nuclear weapons. My purpose today is to focus on the state of the church under Kim, a dictator described by one commentator as "the criminal proprietor of the world's largest open-air prison."
Open Doors, an organization that advocates for persecuted Christians around the world, ranks North Korea as the worst nation on earth for believers. According to their analysis, followers of Jesus are viewed as direct threats to the government and its continued power.
As a result, North Koreans who are found to be Christians are typically deported to labor camps as political criminals or even executed on the spot. Their families share their fate as well. Meeting with other Christians for worship is almost impossible.
People can be sent to horrific labor camps simply for being in contact with a religious person. In these camps, prisoners are forced to stand on their toes for 24 hours in tanks filled with water up to their noses. They are stripped and hanged upside down while being beaten. Food rations leave inmates on the brink of starvation, so many prisoners hunt rats, snakes and frogs for protein.
There are an estimated three hundred thousand Christians in North Korea. Every one of them risks his or her life to follow Jesus.
Chinese Christians face growing persecution
Meanwhile, China's National People's Congress approved a plan yesterday to abolish presidential term limits, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.
According to one expert on Chinese politics, the move "means that Xi is now unquestionably a Leninist strongman." Another warned: "Throughout history, only Chinese emperors and Mao Zedong had lifelong tenure until their deaths. And what came out of that was a disaster for the society and many painful lessons."
What will this historic move mean for Christians in the world's most populous nation?
Previous indications are not good. Xi has stated that religions which inadequately conform to Communist ideals threaten the country's government and must become more "Chinese-oriented." Last fall, Communist party officials reportedly visited Christian households in Jiangxi province, forcibly removing dozens of Christian symbols and replacing them with pictures of Xi.
Government authorities demolished a well-known Chinese megachurch in January. Last month, the government imposed regulations requiring all religious groups to gain government approval for any kind of religious activity, including using one's personal home for a religious practice, publishing religious materials, calling oneself a pastor or studying theology in school.
The Communist government's move to monitor all citizens through technology is especially frightening. The State Council, China's governing cabinet, has begun building a system that tracks the reputations of individuals, businesses and government officials.
The aim is for every Chinese citizen to be identified by a Social Credit Score, an electronic file compiling data from public and private sources. The goal is to encourage behaviors ranging from energy conservation to obedience to the Communist party.
Those with high scores will be rewarded with shorter wait times in hospitals, cheaper public transportation and even free gym facilities. Those with low scores can face restrictions on jobs, mortgages, travel, public service access and schools their children qualify to attend. Several provinces are already using TV and LED screens in public places to shame those with low scores.
It is easy to imagine the effect of such a totalitarian system for Christians who choose Christ over Communism. Now that President Xi has secured dictatorial power unencumbered by accountability, the threat to believers in China is likely to increase.
Three ways we can help
How can American Christians respond to the persecution of our fellow believers in North Korea and China?
One: Pray for them.
God's word commands us to "keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18). It is vital that we pray every day for our persecuted sisters and brothers.
We should also pray for Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping to come to Christ. Scripture requires that "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Imagine the impact on the world if these two men met Jesus and began serving him as modern-day Apostle Pauls. Will you stop and pray for such miracles right now?
Two: Seek ways to serve them.
You may be able to help those who help persecuted Christians in these countries. You may be able to influence government officials who can influence North Korean and Chinese leaders.
Ask the Lord how you can serve our persecuted brothers and sisters. And remember that what we do for Christians in need, we do for their Lord (Matthew 25:40).
Three: Learn from them.
Many Christians in North Korea and China pay a price for their faith that believers in America cannot imagine. But the totality of their commitment to Jesus calls us to follow their example.
Oswald Chambers notes: "The only way to be obedient to the heavenly vision is to give our utmost for God's highest." The more we are yielded to God, the more we are usable by him.
How usable are you today?
First published at the Denison Forum.