Every day, as I prep for podcasts, I am consistently moved by the sheer volume of stories across Christian news sites about the massive persecution of Christians around the globe right now. This is religious persecution that ranges from the relatively mild, like the online censorship we’re encountering in the U.S., to extreme forms of real torture of human beings, like we’d find in Nigeria and North Korea.
First, Christianity Daily highlighted a recent purge of Christians off of Twitter. Gab CEO, Andrew Torba, believes the day could come that the reality of our existence may be an underground parallel economy, which I think is possible. Vigilant Citizen also had an article pointing out that the current war on words, the Orwellian Agenda to Control Thought by Limiting Language, is essentially, at its core, a war on Christianity.
I’m reminded of what Paul said in 2 Tim. 4:2. “Preach the word…” Every word of it.
Premiere Christian News published an article stating that “A preliminary report investigating the human rights of Christians in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom in 2019-2020 has found an increasing level of intolerance towards believers throughout society,” which they found “to be prevalent from both a government level – through legislation and political discourse – and through social exclusion and criminal acts against Christians.” Additionally, Harbingers Daily reported that hate crimes against Christians in Europe have risen 70%. Not only that, but there is also an increase in arrests of Christians for “hate speech” exemplified by Finland’s prosecution of Pavi Räsänen, and she’s a member of their own parliament! And what was her big crime? She posted Romans 1:24-27 on her Twitter account.
Preach the word. All of it.
There were also a number of articles this week on Christian news sites like Pesecution.org, CBN, and Evangelical Focus about the recent death of a Nigerian pastor, Dauda Bature. While working on his farm, Bature was approached by Fulani herdsman terrorists. Bature did what he does. He gave them the gospel. They were infuriated. They kidnapped him. A ransom was paid. Then they killed him.
I’m also reminded of what Paul said in Col 1:27, To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Col 1:28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus…”
If you’re dealing with terrorists, does that mean you don’t share the gospel with them because they might kill you? No. You follow Paul’s example. You warn every man. You teach every man. You do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). You preach the Word no matter the cost, because it is far better to be a victim of their terror, than it is to be one of them in the hands of an angry God at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
Yet, despite all the persecution we read about in places like Nigeria, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, China, etc., my gut tells me that none of them, not even China, can compare to the horrors of North Korea. Why? Because we know so little about what goes on within their borders. No watchdogs. No accountability. No news coming out of North Korea, which I find scary because we know that their entire system is designed to crush any faith in God. The persecution there is systemic and institutionalized.
So I was surprised to discover yesterday that a website called Korea Future posted a report on Religious Freedom Violations in North Korea. Wait a minute. How were they able to get any news about persecution out of North Korea? Well, they interviewed 217 survivors, witnesses, and former prison guards, who had escaped North Korea into South Korea. So this report, based off of 217 eyewitness accounts, gives us only the faintest glimpse of life for Christians in North Korea.
The stories. Oh, the stories.
First, on page 59, we find this story: “An entire family of five people living in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, was arrested in 2009 based on the family members’ religious practice and possession of the Bible. The arrests took place at night and every member of the household, which amounted to three generations of the same family, including a 2-year-old, were handed life sentences in a political prison camp.” In fact, I recall International Christian Concern mentioning in their 2021 Persecutor of the Year report that “It is typical for the regime to assign life prison sentences for three generations of one family if a member is discovered to be a true Christian.” Not only that, “The Kims have created a religious system modeled on the faith (God/Father/Son) with Kim Jong-un playing the part of the Son that is to be worshiped. Any threat to the Son and over-arching religious system is mercilessly crushed.”
If you’re a North Korean Christian, does this mean you should be silent all your life? God hasn’t called us to silence. I say go underground until you’re caught. But do the work of an evangelist. Preach the Word. All of it. Every word of it.
On page 63 of Korea Future’s report, we come across the horrifying testimony of Ko Sun Hee, “who was detained at Onsong County Ministry of State Security Detention Centre, [and] observed how correctional officers would make detainees suspected of studying the Bible stick their heads between the steel bars of a cell door. The officers would then strike the detainees’ heads until ‘blood spurted upwards.’ In another case, a young woman had been arrested while in possession of a Bible, prompting officials from Ministry of State Security Central Command to beat her with a wooden stick until a superior intervened after hearing the victim screaming. In some cases, the physical beatings of victims were so severe that it contributed to their premature deaths. One victim who was a member of an underground church was beaten so severely in 2019 while in detention that they later died from their injuries.”
Christian Today highlights a different report that Korea Future put out on torture, which was far more graphic and horrifying than what I shared. One woman who held an underground church had her head pounded against cell bars. Her lip was shredded. They also broke all her fingers and denied her medical treatment.
We know the depths of torture Paul endured (2 Cor. 11:23-29). He was whipped 39 times on 5 separate occasions. Beaten with rods 3 times. Stoned. Yet, I have to ask: Did the possibility of more torture ever hinder Paul from sharing the gospel? No. Why is that? We find Paul’s motivation in 2 Cor. 5:14. “For the love of Christ constraineth us…” Constraineth with the –eth at the end means it’s a continual state of being. Christ’s love continually constrained him to the singular purpose of serving Christ and Christ alone no matter the cost. That’s such a profound thought when you consider all the suffering Paul was going through when he wrote those words: “For the love of Christ constraineth us…” The suffering was nothing. His love was everything.
You might ask yourself, “What’s worse? My temporary suffering in this life or that other person spending an eternity in a Lake of Fire?”
Here’s another question: How does a corrupt system of institutionalized persecution ever change? One saved soul at a time.
Do the work of an evangelist. Preach the Word. All of it.
On page 66, we learn about “Positional Torture,” in which victims are “forced to remain seated in a cross-legged position for up to 10 hours each,” which they say was “common.” Survivor Lee Kang In explained, “when we were in a fixed position, we had to sit on the floor in two rows with our legs crossed, so that the correctional officers could keep an eye on us using the CCTV camera. We were 0.7 meters apart from the person to our side, and 1 meter apart from the person sitting behind us […] They force you to sit and prohibit you from either talking or moving, so it is impossible to pray within the cells. […] The Ministry of State Security officials would kill you if they knew that you had religious affiliations. If you tell them that you went to a church and believed in Jesus, they would not stop at just beating you.”
What I would give to tell those dear saints that you don’t have to be in a certain prayer posture with your head bowed, and your eyes closed, and your hands clasped, in order to pray. The point is to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). The point is to be in a constant state of prayer, a constant spirit of prayer, a constant readiness to pray, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing. You can sit there looking like every other prisoner and still pray, because they can’t take what they don’t have. They can’t take what’s hidden in your heart. They can’t take your soul, and they cannot stop your mind from communing with God in prayer wherever you are.
I’m reminded of a film called Tortured for Christ, which you can watch for free on Tubi. This was the story of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was brutally tortured in Romania for 14 years for preaching the gospel after the Soviets occupied his country in the 1940’s. Wurmbrand would go on to become the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs. In any case, there was a scene in which the prisoners were sitting together. One was leading a Bible discussion. This made the guards quite angry. They came in. They grabbed that prisoner. They dragged him out of that cell. They brutally beat him and brought him back. The men looked at him. All bruised and bloody, the prisoner looked back at them and said, “Where were we?” And he kept on preaching.
Do the work of an evangelist. Preach the Word.
We know saints in some parts of the world who listen to the podcast and are facing the real possibility of being rounded up and thrown into camps. We’ve made the point that Ezekiel’s ministry started in a Babylonian concentration camp (Ezek. 1:1-3).
No matter where you are, do the work of an evangelist. Preach the Word.
And finally, also on page 66 of Korea Future’s report, we find the testimony of Jo Hyeon Woo, who was “a former detainee of Onsong County Ministry of State Security Detention Centre.” Jo Hyeon Woo had witnessed “North Korean correctional officers physically beating and subjecting a Han Chinese victim to degrading treatment.”
“The witness recalled that, in spite of his torture, the Han Chinese victim… persistently professed his faith to correctional officers.”
To that Han Chinese victim: You are my hero! Keep preaching the Word!