Do you know much about North Korea? Most people around the world know very little about this isolated country sandwiched between China and South Korea. You may have heard that North Korea has been led by a dynasty of oppressive leaders all with the family name of Kim, that they have secretly developed nuclear weapons, or that President George W Bush included North Korea in his "axis of evil." There is so much more to North Korea than meets the eye. Here are some surprising facts you may not know:
1. North Korea experienced a massive revival in the first half of the 20th century, with millions of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ. So many churches sprung up throughout the land that by the early 1940s, approximately 30% of the population in the city of Pyongyang (now the capital of North Korea) were church-going Christians, earning the city the nickname, "Jerusalem of the East". Billy Graham's late wife, Ruth, attended a Christian boarding school in Pyongyang as a teen in the 1920s.
2. In the 1950s the brutal Korean War resulted in the Korean Peninsula being divided into the Communist North and the democratic South, a division that remains to this day. Virtually all Christians in North Korea were either killed or fled south, forming the basis for the sizable percentage of South Korea's population who are Christians today.
3. North Korea's Communist founder, Kim II-Sung, came from a devout Christian family. His father was a Presbyterian minister. Once Kim gained power in 1948 he established a bizarre personality cult, set himself up as a god, and launched a horrific persecution against Christians, inventing new and demonic ways of torturing and killing people.
A Golden Opportunity
Christian history is littered with wonderful opportunities which were sadly squandered. In the year 1266, the great Emperor of the Mongol world empire, Kublai Khan, requested that 100 missionaries be sent to his palace in Beijing. He laid down this challenge to Marco Polo: "Send me a hundred men learned in your religion, who in the face of these sorcerers will show their mastery by making the sorcerers powerless to perform these marvels in their presence. Then I will be baptized, and all my magnates and barons will do likewise, and their subjects in turn. Then there will be more Christians here than there are in your part of the world."
By the time the first team of missionaries arrived in China 28 years later, Kublai Khan was already dead and the Mongol people had embraced Buddhism, which remains their religion to the present time. A golden opportunity was missed.
Centuries later, in 1945 a devastated Japan lay in ruins in the aftermath of World War II. The U.S. General Douglas MacArthur stated, "Japan is in a spiritual vacuum. Send 5,000 missionaries and 10 million Bibles and Japan will be filled with Christianity." Few Bibles or missionaries were sent, and Japan remains Buddhist to the present time. Only about 1% of Japan's 125 million people are Christians today. Another great opportunity was lost.
Many Christian and human rights organizations inform the world about the gruesome abuses that take place in North Korea. There are thousands of Christians currently languishing in North Korean prison labor camps, facing dastardly tortures that are comparable to anything depraved men have inflicted on one another in the history of humanity.
A Famine of God's Word
Due largely to corruption and wicked practices, North Korea has been experiencing a food shortage for years. Hundreds of thousands of people have died of starvation, while the leaders indulge themselves in opulent palaces equipped with all the latest luxuries, including a theme park and wave pool!
In the six decades since the advent of Communist rule in North Korea, a famine of God's Word has also been prevalent.Anyone caught reading a Bible is considered a threat to national security. They may be executed, or sent to a prison labor camp for years, which is often considered a worse fate than death.
Only heaven will reveal the multitudes of North Korean Christians who have been martyred for their faith. Their names are unknown to us now. but the Lord Jesus knows them, and He will honor them with a martyrs' crown (Revelation 2:8-10).
For years the Gospel has been quietly advancing in North Korea, through much blood and suffering.
The Saenuri Bible
Despite living under one of the most oppressive regimes in world history, North Korean Christians have clung on to the grace of God. Estimates vary greatly, but most researchers believe there are between 200,000 to 300,000 Christians in North Korea today (approximately one percent of the population).
The North Korean church is deeply "underground". There are no public meetings or physical church buildings. The government does all it can to keep Bibles out of the country, but God's people are desperate to feed on His Word. For many years people have done what they can to supply the Scriptures to this needy nation, often at great personal risk. Multitudes of North Korean Christians have lost their lives because of their desire to read the Word of God.
For years, North Korean Christians have told us they have an extremely difficult time understanding the Bible. This is because the existing translation uses archaic Korean vocabulary derived from Chinese and Japanese, and is full of foreign concepts.
Additionally, the language in North Korea has changed drastically. In 1969, Kim ll-Sung ordered his country to return to a pure Korean language, erasing all words from foreign cultures, including the vast vocabulary derived from Chinese and many Japanese words adopted during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Using the existing South Korean Bible has also proven problematic. North Korea has alienated its language from outside influences, creating a vocabulary that is unique to the 25 million people of North Korea. Having a translation that is appropriate for North Koreans will allow the Gospel to spread quickly. Still separated from the rest of the world, the church in North Korea needs a Bible they can understand.
Fifteen years ago, God brought together a team of Korean theologians and experts in Hebrew and Greek, and gave them a vision to translate the Scriptures in a more accurate form for North Koreans to better understand the Bible.
The New Testament was completed several years ago and is currently in use. The Old Testament has recently been completed. The full Bible is therefore now available and will provide a huge boost for the Gospel in North Korea.