World Help’s founder, Vernon Brewer, has experienced something very few people have — he has actually traveled inside North Korea.
And while visiting the most secretive, closed-off country on earth has become much more difficult in recent years, Vernon continues to travel to North Korea’s border as often as he can to meet with defectors who have fled and Christians secretly working to smuggle Bibles inside.
We asked him to share his experiences from the world’s most dangerous country to follow Christ … here are his answers.
Q: What was it like to visit North Korea?
A: I will never forget my first day in North Korea. As we drove over the Tumen River, our guide told us how North Koreans come to the riverbank and wait until evening to attempt the risky swim to Mainland China.
The border guards have orders to shoot on sight, and anyone attempting to cross the border illegally is subject to execution. Our guide then added, almost as an afterthought, “The Tumen has probably witnessed more deaths than any other river in the world.”
North Korea is the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian
Once inside the country, I was suddenly struck by the eerie quietness that pervades the towns and cities we visited. The streets were empty, absent of the usual traffic and busy city life. The few people who found themselves outside seemed to meander aimlessly. Convoys of ox carts replaced cars and public buses, and the buildings with their water-stained stucco walls looked hollow and gray.
Electricity was often cut off so that at night entire towns were absorbed into darkness. I was shocked to see students typing on keyboards while staring at blank computer screens at one government school. They were pretending to do their classwork until the power came back on … pretending that everything was normal.
Q: What do you think is the most surprising thing about North Korea?
A: Many people don’t remember that in the early 20th century, Pyongyang was known as “the Jerusalem of the East” or that Christianity played a main role in the history of the Korean peninsula. Even after communism began to overtake North Korea, Christianity’s influence was so prevalent that Kim Il Sung’s father was a Christian, and his father-in-law was a Presbyterian minister.
Today, though, there is nowhere on earth where persecution of believers is more severe than in North Korea. I am not even able to share with you many of the atrocities committed against these believers — especially the stories of how hundreds of Christ-followers are executed every year.
In one instance, when a group of church leaders did not reject Jesus, police directed that a bulldozer be driven over them, crushing them to death.
Q: What is one testimony from North Korea that stands out to you the most?
A: I heard one story I’ll never forget, which I wrote about in my book If I Die…:
“There was one homework [assignment] I wish I’d never done,” said Eun, now in her 40s. One morning, when Eun was in third grade, her teacher told the class, “Today, we’re not going to give you homework.” Naturally, all the children celebrated the news, but the teacher wasn’t finished.
“However, when you go home, look for a book,” the teacher continued. “Normally, it’s black. Normally it’s hidden. Normally it’s the book your mom or dad read when you sleep. Normally it’s hidden in the closet or the drawer or somewhere that’s not reachable, but if you look hard enough, you can find this book. And, if you bring it, we will honor you.”
Giving someone a Bible in their native language helps them better understand the Gospel
Eun ran home, arriving before her mom. She looked everywhere, through drawers, cabinets, and underneath mattresses, until she finally found a small, black, leather-bound book. She hid it inside her bag and took it to school the next morning.
When Eun turned in her parents’ Bible at school, the teacher gave her a red scarf — the sign of a good kid in communist North Korea. Eun’s mother didn’t allow her to be involved in government-sponsored extracurricular activities, so Eun had never had the opportunity to receive this honor.
With the scarf around her neck, she ran home to tell her mom what had happened — but her mom wasn’t there. In fact, Eun waited all night for her mom, but she never arrived.
When Eun got to school the following day, with an empty stomach, she found out the parents of 14 other students also hadn’t come home the night before.
Incredibly, when Eun grew up and heard the Gospel herself, she also accepted Christ as her Savior … even knowing what it had cost her parents and what it could cost her.
Q: How can we pray for North Korea?
A: Pray for the safety of the underground churches of North Korea. Several thousand secret churches meet in homes, caves, forests, and shores … and need our prayers.
You can help persecuted Christians in North Korea by providing food and a Bible
Pray that believers will boldly share their faith in the face of persecution — and when that persecution comes, they will have the strength to endure it. I’ve heard many stories of North Koreans who actually came to Christ because they witnessed other believers refuse to deny Jesus in the face of torture and even death.
Pray that North Korean Christians’ physical needs will be met. North Korea is facing a historic food shortage. So now, on top of persecution, North Korean believers are facing starvation.
Pray for the leaders of North Korea. Pray for their conversion. If God can do it for Nebuchadnezzar and Saul of Tarsus, God can do it in the hearts of today’s leaders.
Here’s a prayer for persecuted Christians that I wrote in my own prayer journal:
God, you have my attention. Help me to see and feel their suffering so very real in my own life that I cannot forget what I have seen and felt. I can’t even begin to imagine what these dear Christians suffer daily; they are sacrificing so much for you. My faith and commitment pale by comparison. Never let me become complacent and comfortable again. Thank you for refocusing my attention on what is really important in this life and what really matters. Amen.
Q: Why should we help persecuted Christians in North Korea?
A: God’s Word can answer better than I can. In 1 John 3:17-18 in the Message paraphrase, we read these words that are so timely for us today:
“If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.”
We may not be facing persecution ourselves, but we can stand with our brothers and sisters who are.
You can give help and hope to a persecuted Christian in North Korea for just $20.
Your $20 gift will provide one North Korean with a week’s worth of food and a Bible, transforming the life of a persecuted believer.