Associated Press story is only the latest chronicle of North Korea's persecution of Christians

Probably the most unusual religion story out this past weekend was an Associated Press piece on the underground Christians of North Korea. They have been ranked the most persecuted church in the world for the past 18 years.

It’s tough to get people to talk about what really goes on in North Korea, as so few people survive escaping the Hermit Kingdom. This Fox News story gives an idea of the hell that prison life is and no doubt these stories don’t tell half of it.

Still the AP gave us a few ideas on how the North Koreans keep on keeping on.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — One North Korean defector in Seoul describes her family back home quietly singing Christian hymns every Sunday while someone stood watch for informers. A second cowered under a blanket or in the toilet when praying in the North. Yet another recalls seeing a fellow prison inmate who’d been severely beaten for refusing to repudiate her religion.

These accounts from interviews with The Associated Press provide a small window into how underground Christians in North Korea struggle to maintain their faith amid persistent crackdowns. …

One woman interviewed said she converted about 10 relatives and neighbors and held secret services before defecting to the South.

“I wanted to build my church and sing out as loud as I could,” said the woman, who is now a pastor in Seoul. She insisted on only being identified with her initials, H.Y., because of serious worries about the safety of her converts and family in the North.

The pastor and others spoke with AP because they wanted to highlight the persecution they feel Christians face in North Korea. Although the comments cannot be independently confirmed, they generally match the previous claims of other defectors.

My one problem with the last paragraph; “they feel” Christians face in North Korea? Isn’t it pretty established by now that Christians are persecuted there? Some have compared it to Nero’s Rome, so let’s drop the caveats, OK?

The account tells of some haunting stories.

Another defector in Seoul, Kwak Jeong-ae, 65, said a fellow inmate in North Korea told guards about her own religious beliefs and insisted on using her baptized name, rather than her original Korean name, during questioning in 2004.

“She persisted in saying, ‘My name is Hyun Sarah; it’s the name that God and my church have given to me,’” Kwak said. “She told (the interrogators), ‘I’m a child of God and I’m not scared to die. So if you want to kill me, go ahead and kill me.’”

Kwak said Hyun told her about what she did during the interrogations, and Hyun’s actions were confirmed to Kwak by another inmate who was interrogated alongside her. Kwak said she later saw Hyun, then 23, coming back from an interrogation room with severe bruises on her forehead and bleeding from her nose. Days later, guards took Hyun away for good.

Actions like that strike many defectors and South Koreans as extraordinary

I’m not sure what that last sentence means. Does it mean the story is unbelievable?

More common are stories like that from another defector, who also insisted on anonymity because of fears for her family in the North. She said she only prayed under a blanket or in the toilet because of worries of being caught.

Another, who was jailed after being repatriated from China, described praying silently in his cell after a hungry fellow prisoner shared some precious kernels of corn.

“We communicated by writing on our palms (with our fingers). I told him I was a Christian and asked whether he was too,” said the man, who asked to be identified only as J.M., citing safety concerns about his siblings in the North.

I looked at how the South China Morning Post played the story. Alongside it they ran an interview with the director of research for Open Doors International (based in the U.K.) about how Asia has become the new world center for Christian persecution. China’s treatment of Christians has sunk to the level of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s; in other words, incredibly bad. Other countries: Bhutan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, aren’t far behind.

I remember the days when no secular newspaper ever bothered with the likes of Open Doors because their unabashed Christian stance made it unacceptable for the media to take them seriously. This was even though Open Doors had the most accurate statistics of what was going on in these countries — although in recent years, other agencies have sprung up with similar stories of atrocities in North Korea.

Fortunately, times have changed, possibly starting in 1998, when President Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act into law. Now other websites, such as World Watch Monitor, persecution.org, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, religioustolerance.org, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and many others have popped up.

So thankfully, there’s more out there on religious persecution than there used to be. But North Korea remains the toughest place from which to get information. The AP article didn’t tell us a whole lot of new information, but at least it keeps the narrative out there. And as long as President Donald Trump keeps on engaging North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his country’s abysmal treatment of its Christians will continue to get play.

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