Uncertainty regarding the status of negotiations between North Korea, the United States, and South Korea has fixed many Christians’ eyes to the headlines daily to know how to pray. But the most important prayer that Christians can pray related to North Korea is one that can only be found in the Bible.
We may be citizens of the US, South Korea, or another country, but the Bible says we are one body with believers around the world—including North Korean Christians. Galatians 6:10 says we must prioritize care for other members of Christ’s body above everything else, even national security. And in Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us that he identifies fully with Christian brothers and sisters in prison: When we neglect them, we neglect him—and he will remember it on the last day.
More than 30,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea. This figure is well-attested by even secular groups like Amnesty International and government agencies like the US State Department. Because of this, every day our first prayers for the peace process should always be for those 30,000 Christians—that the Lord would bring them comfort and immediate relief.
It is not necessary for us to try to imagine the conditions faced by North Korean Christians in prison because former Christian prisoners have left a detailed account. Mr. Bae, who now lives in South Korea, was a North Korean underground believer imprisoned for his faith. He shared an account of his time in prison with me in the book These are the Generations. Mr. Bae recalls:
I was treated like an insect in prison. Every day of those thirteen months was the same. Up at 5:00 a.m. Mop the floor. Clean up. Go to the restroom. Throw out the contents of the bucket. Then I had to sit cross-legged with my hands on my knees in the same position for the next seventeen hours. I was not permitted to turn my neck or slouch with my back. Every two hours, we were allowed to urinate. The only other time we were allowed to move was during meals, which were exactly one minute long. At 10:00 p.m., we were allowed to go to bed, but our heads had to be turned away from the prison bars. “Bed” meant laying down on the wooden floor.
When you’re sitting, you cannot move, even if you get bit by a mosquito. If you even flinch, you receive punishment—torturous humiliations dreamed up by the guards. In one punishment, you’d have to stand with your knees bent, holding a full bowl of water over your head for thirty minutes. If you spilled even a drop, you’d be beaten senseless with a rod. For another punishment, you had to extend your hands through the prison bars so the guard on the other side could mash your palms into bloody ribbons of flesh with a sharp iron spike. You might be ordered to hang from a bar for half an hour or crawl like an insect across the wooden floor.
Mostly, though, I just sat, unmoving, for seventeen hours a day, for more than a year of my life. (These Are the Generations, 54)
Scripture does tell us to pray for the authorities (1 Timothy 2:2), for wisdom for Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In. But our prayers should neither start or end there. Our first prayers should be for the household of faith (Galatians 6:10), particularly our brothers and sisters in prison in North Korea. As we pray for political negotiations between the US, North Korea, and South Korea, we should not neglect prayers and care for the North Korean Christians with whom we are one body.