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How do North Korean Christians Pray?

North Korea
A secret meeting in North Korea

In North Korea, it is against the law to choose to follow Jesus or to own a Bible. A listener on VOMRadio.net asked the following questions.

  • In a country like North Korea, how do Christians pray?
  • How do they gather together?
  • What is a worship service like in North Korea?

Todd Nettleton, host of VOM Radio, asked Rev. Eric Foley the listener’s questions. Rev. Foley is the leader of VOM Korea.

Rev. Foley: A lot of ideas we have about North Koreans hiding under a blanket to read the Bible or sneaking out of their homes at night aren’t exactly accurate. And the reason why is that everyone in North Korea is required to spy on homes that are near their own.

Things like hiding under a blanket or sneaking out of your home would make the neighbors suspicious. So when things like that happen it is usually on the border of North Korea.

North Koreans who are in the interior of North Korea who have been Christians for generations actually worship very differently. They have developed ways of worship that they can do even when people who are not Christians are watching.

One of the ways is that underground [secret] believers pray with their eyes open. They look at the person they are with as if they are having a conversation with that person. And instead of referencing God, for example, they use a phrase like “Dear Leader.” [“Dear Leader” is a title used for the former leader of their country, who is now dead. In this case, Christians are using the title to talk secretly about God.]

So instead of bowing their heads and closing their eyes, they might look at the person sitting next to them and say, “I am so concerned about Sister Kim, who is sick. But I am thankful that our Dear Leader will show special care for her as she needs love and attention.” That would be how underground Christians pray.

The way that they have worship services is on a family level. People in the same family worship together. But people from different families typically do not gather together for worship in North Korea.

(Source: VOMRadio.net. Edited and paraphrased for length and clarity.)

Rev. Foley’s book about Christians in North Korea, These Are the Generations, is available at VOM Books.

Enter “North Korea” in the Search box on this site to find more stories about North Korean Christians.


Summer Activity 3: Martyr Testimonies

Children in North Korea
North Korean children

The previous two posts told about activities led by youth pastor Rusty R. from Illinois. Read about another of the group’s activities below.

Youth leaders rewrote 12 stories from The Voice of the Martyrs resources putting them in the first person.

[For example, one Kids of Courage blog post began, “One day Sung Mi, a 12-year-old girl in North Korea, discovered something scary.” In the first person it would begin, “My name is Sung Mi. I am from North Korea. I was 12 years old when this happened. This is my story.]

Leaders at the camp memorized the stories and recited them aloud to the campers as if they were the person in the story. At the end of each story, the reader would say, “My name is ______. I am honored to be a servant of Jesus.”

The leaders allowed three minutes after each story for the campers to reflect on the story. They read four stories every night for three nights. “It was even more powerful for the adult leaders who portrayed the Christians than for the students,” Rusty reported.

(Edited and adapted from the original for space and age-appropriateness.)


Summer Activity 2: Romans and Christians at Camp

Painting

The previous post told about Christian campers who learned about persecution at an adventure camp led by youth minister Rusty R. Read below about another one of their activities.

Romans and Christians Game
The campers played a game at night to illustrate persecution endured by the early church. The leaders set a time limit at the start of the game. The object of the game was for there to be more Christians hiding with the light (a symbol of Christ) than in jail when the time expired.

The game required:

  • Several adult jail guards
  • Several roaming “Roman” adult guards carrying pool noodles as “swords”
  • An adult Christian with a flashlight decorated to look like a candle
  • Student players
  • A safe outdoor space with places to hide
  • An area designated as the “jail”

The adult with the light hid outside. The campers tried to find the adult with the light and to join them in their hiding place as they “found the light.” If the students were caught by the guards, they had to go to the area designated as the jail. If they were caught with the adult with the light, the adult ran off to find another hiding place.

The only way to get out of the jail was to witness to the guards by quoting Scriptures and singing worship songs. If they found favor with the guards (showing that the guards were “converted”), the guards released them, and they tried to find the Christian with the light. The guards remained at the jail to take care of newly-arriving prisoners.


Summer Activity: Underground Meeting

North Korea
A secret meeting in North Korea

Are you looking for a summer activity for your class or group? This post and the following two posts might give you some ideas. Rusty R., a camp leader from Illinois, led the activities and described them to The Voice of the Martyrs.

Rusty said, “One night I sent the students to bed early, right at dark. I gave them instructions to stay in their beds until they received a special knock at their door. I told them at that point they would no longer be at camp, but in a restricted nation.

“Later I went around knocking on doors. Each sleeping quarters received a page of instructions and dozens of pages photocopied from a Bible.

“The students were instructed to hide the Bible pages on them. They were to leave their sleeping quarters, a minute apart, in groups of no more than three people. They were told to walk about a half mile to a basement room. On the way, they would be confronted by guards. The guards were five guys dressed in camouflage with bandanas on their faces. We even blocked off a road with a military truck. They were told that if they were caught by the guards, there were to say they were going to a birthday party.

“When they arrived at the basement room, they were instructed to put all their Scripture pages under a rug in the middle of the room. We chose a small room to make it more cramped. We had a small light source.

“Our ‘underground service’ was totally unstructured. Students were told to lead out in song, Scripture reading, or stories of encouragement. They did an amazing job of it for more than an hour and a half.

“Four adult leaders recited stories of present-day persecuted Christians in the first person. [See the previous post.] We had one of the faculty kidnapped by the guards. During the service, she was released and re-joined the group to tell her story.

“We placed a birthday cake in the middle of the room. Students were instructed to sing “Happy Birthday” if the guards raided the service. It was our alibi to hide what we were doing. Within 30 minutes of the start of the meeting, guards burst in and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” The guards ended up taking our cake with them when they left and letting us continue our “party.” Later we dismissed the students in groups of three, with one minute between each group.

(Edited and adapted from the original for clarity, space, and age-appropriateness.)


“Students Are Looking for Something Real”

Bangladesh
Bangladeshi Christian children drink clean water supplied by Christians

Last summer, Rusty R., a youth leader in Illinois, directed an adventure camp for 7th through 9th graders. The camp raised awareness of persecuted Christians and encouraged campers to remember their suffering brothers and sisters around the world.

“I have been a youth minister for more than 13 years,” Rusty shared with The Voice of the Martyrs. “During those years I have supported [organizations that fight injustices] such as: starving children, [lack of] clean water, homelessness, abuse and neglect, and human trafficking.

“Persecution is on an entirely different level than all of those injustices for at least three reasons.

“First, persecution involves all of the other injustices. Every day, Christians around the world are being deprived of food, shelter, and clean water; they are abused and even forced into human trafficking.

“Secondly, those being persecuted are our brothers and sisters!

“Thirdly, it seems like no one is teaching about persecution these days. Every year students say, ‘I have already heard all of this before.’ But when I taught about persecution, not one of them had heard it before. That tells me that many are growing up without a [knowledge of] suffering and without praying for their suffering family around the globe. They are unaware of the cost to follow Jesus and ignorant of the persecution that will someday come their way.

“I have found that students are looking for something real to make a difference with. The topic of persecution is as real as it gets. And I have found that there are a ton of ways to get involved and make a difference.”

(Edited from the original for space.)

The campers wrote letters to imprisoned Christians, filled Action Packs, memorized Scripture verses about persecution, and learned about Christians in peril through other activities and projects.

Next post: Learn about some of the activities Rusty’s campers experienced.


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