An unprecedented number of Christian Reformed churches will mark the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church this year, just two years after synod encouraged churches to mark this day (Acts of Synod 2016, p. 862).
“We were so pleased by the number of bulletin insert orders this year,” said Paola Fuentes Gleghorn, communications specialist with the CRC Office of Social Justice (OSJ), which produced resources for churches to use on November 4 or 11 to commemorate this day. “Last year we printed 3,500 inserts, and this year we are planning to print more than 23,000.”
This year’s materials focus on the persecution of Christians in North Korea. “North Korea has been, and continues to be, a nation that commits some of the most horrific human rights abuses in the world,” said Shannon Jammal-Hollemans of the OSJ. “What is highly disturbing is the suppression of communication that silences the voices of Christians in North Korea in order that the stories of their suffering would go untold. This suppression needs to end.”
In the words of synod’s Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, “To build a movement against persecution, the most fundamental thing the church must do is preach and practice a theology that religious freedom is for all persons” (Agenda for Synod 2016, p. 466).
- For broadcasters like the Far East Broadcasting Company that seek to reach North Koreans with the message of the gospel.
- For those detained in North Korea for their faith or for other reasons. Pray that they may be miraculously protected from harm, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were protected in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).
- For people in both North and South Korea who don’t know where their family members are because of the division of families during the Korean War or the detention of family members in North Korean prisons or work camps.
- For those who dare to worship God in North Korea despite this persecution.
- For the reunification of North and South Korea and that a true and lasting peace be established, with freedom of religion for all Koreans.
Religious Persecution in North Korea
- Christians in North Korea, estimated by the United Nations to number between 200,000 and 400,000, often practice their faith in secret for fear of being reported to the authorities.
- According to a South Korean nongovernmental organization, there were 1,304 cases of violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief by North Korean authorities in 2017, including 119 killings and 87 disappearances.
- According to the United Nations, between 80,000 and 120,000 people are detained in political prison camps in North Korea. Arbitrary arrest, torture, forced labor, and public executions are common.
- Technically the country’s constitution allows for freedom of religious belief. There are a very limited number of government-permitted religious groups. and some forms of religious education are permitted (including several programs for training Protestant and Buddhist clergy).
- Based on the North Korean government’s reports, the number of people practicing any religion in the country has dropped precipitously since 1950, but since many worship in secret, the real number of Christians in North Korea is difficult to know.
Sources: Human Rights Watch World Report 2017 and the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017.