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Serving with the persecuted church since 2003

INSIDE The First Christian Martyrs Fake Christians Evangelism

martyr [mahr-ter] “a witness who testifies to a fact of which he has knowledge from personal observation.”

From the Editor


μάρτυς The history of Christianity in North Korea is nothing short of fascinating. When Kim Sung-Il had the outlandish idea to wipe Christianity in North Korea out, he invented the atheist Juche religion of “self-reliance.” It was, in fact, simply Christianity repackaged with himself and his family rather than The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as revealed in Scripture - at the center. Christians have been on the run ever since. It’s easy, when sitting on our comfortable couches in other countries, to look at North Korean Christian practice and scoff at them. Jesus says we should confess Him before men as the requisite for Him confessing us before the Father. Persecuted Christians should be bold for their faith, even if it costs them their lives. Oh, that we would be so bold as one of these persecuted believers! The truth is, persecuted Christians living in North Korea do confess Christ as Lord before others. They just don’t do it the same way that we in the West do.

And they shouldn’t. Every generation of Christians must take seriously the task of discerning God’s will for evangelism in their time and place. Our job, as brothers and sisters, is to pray fervently for NK Christians; and trust God to use their faithful witness to bring others to him. Then, we should come together and commit to exposing the record of North Korean oppression. We should collect, preserve, and share the testimonies of underground Christians. Let it be your goal, just as it is mine, to enable other Christian believers, and the general public around the world, to come to a greater understanding of the past and present witness set by Christians in North Korea. PRODUCED BY SEOUL USA

U.S. Office 14960 Woodcarver Road Colorado Springs, CO 80921 Phone: 719-481-4408 Seoul Office 236-1 Duck Seong Building 1st Floor Mapo-dong Mapo-Gu Seoul, Korea Phone: 02-2065-0703

Pre-1945 It’s hard to believe that Christianity was first introduced to the Korean peninsula through the North, not the South. But it’s true. A prayer meeting at the First Church of Pyonyang in 1907 sent a massive revival rippling through the Korean Peninsula. William Blair, a missionary who at the meeting, later described it as “The Korean Pentecost.” Pyongyang came to be known as

the “Jerusalem of the East.”

Japanese forced worship. But their strength proved to be too little; 200 churches were shut down and 2,000 Christians were arrested and imprisoned.

But things slowly started to change in the late 1920s. After the Korean church had surrendered to the Japanese Empire’s oppression, imperial shrines were setup and worship was mandatory. One Christian’s daring boycott cost him his life. This set off a chain reaction of Christian churches who resisted the


Still, by 1941 North Korea had a Christian population of about 300,000, according to South Korean government statistics.

the number of Christians martyred in NK during this time period.

1945-1950 establishing

the number of Christians martyred in NK during this time period.





Korean government began to attack the financial base of the Christian church via the Land Reform Act. Under this law, the government possessed land that was owned by others, without compensation, and distributed it according to the needs of the State. In 1948, the oppression of Christians took the form of nationalization of key industries, ensuring only those loyal to the state could possess the most desirable jobs.



After the liberation of Korea, most Christians in the North objected to the communist government under the Soviet’s support. Yet, the Christians held so much influence, it would be impossible to establish a communist North Korea without their support.

At first, Kim SungIl attempted to expand oppressive measures against Christians. When that didn’t work out, he turned instead to clever manipulation. Under the guise of collaboration with Christian leaders he began to exert his control over the church. With their help, he outlawed only those activities which “disturbed” others; and eventually singing hymns became a crime.


Sources Used in This Issue: Voice of the Martyrs data, North Korean Christian History After the Liberation of Korea, North Korean Christian History



By the time the Korean War broke out in June of 1950, the North Korean government had already launched its own attack on Christians. Party members arrested

those who participated in church and searched Christian homes frequently in order to find religious materials.


the number of Christians martyred in NK during this time period.


Offenders were treated as seditious and detained. After the war was underway, the government

increased their persecution of the North Korean Christians , slaughtering any who pledged their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Many Christians were murdered during this time, while others managed to escape to South Korea. In the absence of Christians, the authorities either demolished religious structures or repurposed them for the State. Those believers who remained began to practice their faith “underground.”


After being defeated in the Korean War, Kim Sung-Il and the members of his party turned their attention to their political enemies, giving Christians slight reprieve. But in 1953, North Korea began “refinement instruction” with the purpose of replacing all religious education with the instruction of the Juche philosophy. At its core, Juche is a distortion of Christianity. Both have, as the center of their veneration, a trinity. For Christians, that trinity is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For North Korean communists, it is Kim Sung-Il, his son Kim Jong-il, and his wife Kim Jung-Sook. Both Christianity and Juche adhere to the

teachings of sacred texts; Christians have the Bible and NK communists the writings and teachings of Kim IlSung. Adherents of both meet weekly, sing hymns, and believe in they will spend eternity with the objects of their worship.

North Koreans bow in reverence before a statue of North Korea’s “Dear Father,” Kim Sung-Il

It is no surprise that Christianity came to be seen as the biggest threat to Juche’s success. So when NK government officials began persecuting Christians for being guilty of rejecting government

philosophy, they quickly came to be known as “the opposition.” Kim Sung-Il turned his full attention on eradicating Christians and only those who began to practice underground were able to

live another day to practice their faith. Anti-Christian sentiment began to spread in North Korea as the Juche philosophy took root. In 1959, a number of books were published


as part of the government’s antireligion propaganda campaign. One book, titled Why Do We Deny Religion? says this,

For the last three years, the Chosun War and the South Chosun War were triggered in God’s name and led by Americans who number of Christians martyred caused massacre, in NK during this time period. arson and plunder


At the end of the 1950s, it appeared as though religious activity had all but disappeared. But the communists knew that were more Christians living among them, undetected. They warned against believing in God and relying on his power; such thinking would lead to the collapse of communism and the demise of the North Korean people.


Throughout the 1960s North Korean Christians decreased in number with the majority now practicing underground. On the surface, it seemed as if there was neither a Christian or church anywhere to be found; Chrisitianity had become a deserted faith.

During the 1970s, Christians were treated harshly as political criminals. As the objects of intentional and direct persecution,

With the publishing of these antireligion books, most formal church activity ceased. During this time, authorities continued to investigate residents throughout the country in order to identify religious people and classify them as counterrevolutionaries, forced to live in designated ghettos.


the number of Christians martyred in NK during this time.

Government authorities did not stop searching for surviving Christians and whenever they were found, they were isolated from society. According to the civilian registration project, North Koreans were divided into 51 classes. The code number for a Protestant Christian was 42. For a Catholic, it was 44. This enabled to communists to distinguish the surveillance levels accordingly.

Despite this being one of the hardest time periods for Christians, it was also a period of significant transformation for the underground church. In the absence of formal churches and pastors, normal Christians adapted to a new form of

life and church. The majority of Christians adapted to worshipping in secret, either alone or in a house church. Their persecution of Christians was not something the North Korean government wanted to get out. In an effort to deceive the outside world, North Korea proclaimed that they protected the freedom of religion. As proof, they pointed to the Chosun Christianity Federation, which is led by a relative of Kim Il-Sung and is controlled by the government.


Of course, the underground church was still alive and active, resisting the movement of the North Korean government.

many were detained in prison camps.

through inhumane actions. This is proof that religion is the cause of all these things.


Sources Used in This Issue: The Interchange of North and South Christianity, North Korean Church Reconstruction and Mission Strategy, Chosun Government Statistics Annual Report

In the early 1980s, the government run Christian Federation operated a fake church to deceive foreign visitors into thinking that Christians were able to freely practice their religion. In 1984, they translated and printed a small number of Bibles and a hymnal. Four years later, they completed the façade with a church building and began holding Christmas and Easter services.


1980-1990 Between 1980 and 1990, most of the underground churches were detected and dissolved. Those who had come to believe in Christ prior to 1953 and succeeded living as underground Christians were aging. The average age for a Christian during this time was over 60.

Most North Korean Christians moved to South Korea during the Korean War and only a few underground Christians remained. But without any guidance on faith, their Christian belief became increasingly reliant on personal interpretation and even devolved into mysticism in some cases. The hope for evangelism in North Korea began when China became a more open country. The




the number of Christians martyred in NK during this time period.

the existence of Christianity only when it was valuable to outsiders; drawing the support of international religous organizations. Internally, however, they isolated Christian citizens in concentration camps and continued to teach Juche as the new state religion.

They announced that there were 5,000 Christians and 500 churches throughout the country, but it was a lie. They emphasized

leaders met with Christian leaders from the South to discuss unification and evangelism. The discussion never resulted in the Gospel being shared with North Koreans. Fortunately, being motivated by South Korean missionaries, ethnic Korean Christians living in China went into North Korea to share the gospel. During a period of famine in the late 1990s, intense suffering drove hundreds of thousands of people to

1990-2000 leave North Korea for China and Russia where Christian missionaries led them to faith in Christ. Many became faithful Christians dedicated to rebuilding the North Korean church. The number of underground Christians multiplied during this decade. Several mission centers were established at the Chinese border in Hamkyungbuk-do, Jagang-do, and Pyoungyangbuk-do. North Koreans

Sources Used in This Issue: Church Distribution in North Korea Region before the Liberation of Korea, North Korean Christianity Structure, Monthly Chosun, Chosun Newspaper

who came to China temporarily were evangelized by Chinese Koreans in these mission centers. But with the multiplication of North Korean Christians came the multiplication of martyrs for the faith. North Korean government authorities arrested new Christians for espionage upon their return to North Korea.

Using information obtained from fearfilled neighbors, Interior Department members captured North Korean Christians.


After their “investigations,” the victim was either executed or sent to a prison camp.

the number of Christians martyred in NK during this time period.

People around the world began discovering that, despite their claims, there was no freedom of religion in North Korea.

2000-Present Underground North Korean Christians have begun to evangelize in earnest, even under tremendous pressure and suffering. In one instance, the families of 10 Christians were executed by firing squad for treason and the rest of the families were sent to prison camp. They were martyred for supplying Bibles to North Koreans.

There are about 20,000 NK refugees today and less than 1% of them have personal knowledge of the existence of Christians in North Korea. The estimated number of Christians inside North Korea is around 100,000 according to refugees and missionaries traveling between China and North Korea. Most of the Christian leaders in North Korea learn about the Christian faith in China. They learn about the Bible


the number of Christians martyred in NK during this time period.

near the Chinese border and return to North Korea with Bibles, hymnals, MP3 players, CDs, and USBs with Christian materials on them; and shortwave radios tuned to pick up illegal Christian broadcasts during the night. When their faith is exposed, they are executed for sent to prison camp. The border between North Korea and China is, in truth, a spiritual war zone as North Korean communists do all that is within their power to stop Christian missionaries. Underground Christians in North Korea have limited understanding of the Bible, but the little they do know, they’re willing to stake their lives on.


Through China and Russia’s increasing openness to economic cooperation and visitation from other countries, the total number of North Korean Christians has increased to 400,000 in China, Russia, South Korea, North Korea,

and the other countries where North Koreans labor or pass through. Still, it is impossible for NK Christians to admit their faith openly anywhere except South Korea.


The Ministry of Seoul USA Hebrews 13:3 - “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Please Pray For…  Underground

University (UU) a seminary training North Korean defectors to be called and set apart for missionary service wherever the North Korean church is found.

 Underground Technology (UT), where North

Korean women receive training from local and global Christian leaders in the areas of leadership, study, life skills, character development, and Christian spirituality.

 Balloon Launch Ministry as we send fliers

containing Underground University students’ testimonies as well as portions of the gospel via balloon to NK.


as we oversee John Maxwell’s leadership training program with North Korean missionaries.

 True Voice of the Martyrs (TVOM), our daily

radio broadcast which disciples North Korean Christians via shortwave radio signal.

 Bibles Unbound as we provide Bibles to people

living in countries hostile to God’s Word.

Seoul USA serves as a bridge between the Korean church (both North and South) and the church in the rest of the world. We bring the gifts of the Korean church to the church in the West and the gifts of the church in the West to the Korean church. We have a particular focus on mobilizing the church around the world to support the underground church of North Korea through our voice of the Martyrs Korea ministry. We are members of the International Christian Association, composed of independently operated Voice of the Martyrs ministries actively working to support persecuted Christians in 52 countries.

In Korea: If you would like to receive this newsletter or volunteer with Seoul USA or learn about our resources designed to prepare churches and Christians to face persecution, contact us at: 236-1 Duck Seong Building 1 Floor, Mapo-dong Mapo-Gu, Seoul Korea Telephone: 02-2065-0703 Email: Web: and

 Proclaimer ministry, as we partner with Faith

Comes by Hearing to provide Proclaimer New Testaments for free to missionaries.

 Martyrs Museum, where a display chronicling

the reality of North Korea underground churches and the history of martyrdom is held.

 Providing and printing VOM’s bestsellers in

North and South Korean editions and North Korean dialect Bibles.

To support this work financially from Korea: Hana Bank: 176-910014-41104 Account Holder: VOM Korea

In the U.S. You can financially support this work with a designated donation to North Korea via Voice of the Martyrs U.S. at 877-337-0302. American churches or Christians seeking information on resources designed to prepare themselves to face persecution personally, please contact us at 719481-4408 or or visit us on the web at

The History of the North Korean Underground Church  

Articles: -The First Christian Martyrs (Pre-1945) -Establishing Communism (1945-1950) -The War (1950-1953) -The Opposition (1954-1960) -Und...

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