A few days hence, we’ll be releasing exclusive new video of North Korean underground Christians worshiping inside of North Korea. It’s rare and amazing footage. But perhaps the most shocking thing you’ll note about the video is this:
These North Korean underground Christians in the video aren’t poor.
This runs contrary to the image most people have of North Korean Christians. The assumption is that because North Korean Christians are the most persecuted population on the planet, they must by definition be poor.
But this overlooks some very important truths about North Korea and how Christians must function there in order to stay alive.
It’s important to understand that many of the basic activities we associate with being a Christian–e.g., gathering together, owning and reading a Bible, being discipled, singing songs, praying–are activities that border on the impossible for most North Koreans.
Take church meetings. North Koreans have a saying: Wherever two or three are gathered together, one of them is a spy. North Koreans are tasked with watching their neighbors closely and reporting any unusual activity to the government. The idea of underground North Korean Christians sneaking out of their homes in the middle of the night and going out into the forest or to the home of another Christian to worship just doesn’t bear scrutiny. Most North Korean Christians simply never meet other North Korean Christians beyond their immediate family members in their lifetime.
Traveling around inside North Korea legally is an impressive feat in and of itself. A travel permit is required to move from town to town, and procuring such permits require time and, often, money. They also require being in the good graces of the government. This eliminates many in the lower classes of North Korean society–and it means that the gospel is more likely to spread among those in the higher classes.
Wealth brings privilege in North Korean society, and privilege often takes the form of greater privacy–and greater ability to get other North Koreans to forget about having seen you do something anti-North Korean…like praying, having a Bible, listening to a Christian radio broadcast, or watching a Christian video on DVD.
Also, historically in Korea overall, Christianity has been the religion of the upper classes, whereas Buddhism has been the religion of the poor. So it is not unusual for historic Christian families in North Korea to have been in positions of comparative privilege because of their family background.
Finally, North Koreans often encounter Christianity when they are on work contracts in countries like China and Russia. Only the upper crust of North Korean society are eligible for these international jobs. Sometimes the contracts are for a year abroad, sometimes for three. But at the end of those contracts, when workers return home (or, sometimes, during visits back home during the contracts), their neighbors are eager to hear the reports of what is happening in the outside world. Sometimes those reports can carefully include proclamations of the gospel to family members and confidantes.
This is not to say that all North Korean Christians are rich. Some are quite destitute–especially those who hear the gospel upon escaping into China. But these defectors are less likely to return back to North Korea in order to evangelize family members. This is why we train North Korean defectors in South Korea how to share the gospel with family members still inside North Korea.
And, in the end, that is why many North Korean underground Christians who remain in North Korea aren’t poor. They aren’t necessarily affluent either, but as you’ll see in the video when we post it, a surprising number are middle class.
And that’s just one of the surprising things you can learn about the North Korean underground church through participating in the 100 Days of Worship in the Common Places campaign that is now underway. And it’s not too late to sign up. We’ll be worshiping with the North Korean church on through New Year’s Eve. So make sure to sign up now so that you don’t miss the exclusive video when it’s posted.