As you have no doubt heard by now, Kim Jong-Il died over the weekend. I heard the news last night when I read a tweet from CNN. Even though he was thought to have been in poor health the news came as a surprise.
Kim Jong-Il was a ruthless dictator. The people of North Korea have been held in captivity since shortly after the Second World War when his father, Kim Il-sung, assumed power and turned the country into a communism-based dictatorship.
Kim Il-sung went as far as to take the Christian heritage of North Korea–a country that experienced deep revival (Pyongyang even being referred to as “The Jerusalem of Asia”) in the early 20th century–and twist it into a form of self-worship. Essentially, Kim Il-sung has been made to replace God the Father, Kim Jong-Il to replace Jesus, and Kim Jung-solo (Kim Il-sung’s wife) as the Holy Spirit. Citizens are required to hang photos of the three Kims on the best wall of their homes, and are required to bow and pray to these photos on a daily basis. Failure to do so could result in being sent to concentration camps.
There are conflicting reports (guesstimates) regarding the number of Christians in North Korea. These numbers range from a few thousand to about 10% of the population (roughly 2 million). If one is caught practicing Christianity or possessing a Bible, then the penalty could be death for that person and imprisonment in concentration camps for three generations of the family.
Bibles are rare in North Korea. It is almost impossible to smuggle Bibles into the country. Very few Christians in North Korea have even ever seen a Bible. Some groups have developed a method where they print the Gospel of Mark onto a balloon and when the wind blows form the south, they will launch these balloons and let them drift over the DMZ and into North Korea. For many North Koreans, this is the only Bible they have ever seen. If they are caught with this balloon, they could be killed or imprisoned. For 30 minutes each day, the Bible is broadcast on a radio station from South Korea that can be heard in North Korea. Again, to be caught listening could result in death or imprisonment.
Kim Jong-Il began preparing his son, Kim Jong-Un, to assume control of North Korea in 2008. The younger Kim is in his late 20s (his actual age is unknown, but he is assumed to be 28 or 29). This will make him the youngest person to ever control a nuclear arsenal. He is thought to be more ruthless than his father. However, he was educated in Switzerland and is a fan of western music, cars, and the National Basketball Association.
North Korea is a country of extreme poverty. Nearly all resources go to support the military and the upper echelon of leadership. Citizens are denied the right to ownership of property. Food is scarce, and reports have been made that cannibalism occurs as a result. The citizenry rely on aid from South Korea, China, and other countries for food. However, much of the aid shipments are reportedly stolen by the government.
Which brings us to our prayer list for North Korea in this time of transition.
- Pray for God to make Himself clearly known to the people. That the people may know and understand that Kim Il-sung is not a god. That the people may know and understand that there is a God who loves them, and wants to feed, heal, and comfort them.
- Pray for the growth of the church in North Korea. Pray that Christians in the underground church may have courage to stand firm in their faith
- Pray for the spreading of the Word of God. Pray that more and more creative methods of getting the Bible into North Korea will come to fruition. Pray that loopholes might be found that would allow Bibles to get into the country and to the pastors in the underground church.
- Pray for a peaceful transition of power. Pray that Kim Jong-Un doesn’t take an opportunity to “prove himself” to the world through means of military aggression. Pray that he doesn’t further oppress his people, rather begins to loosen the oppression that they have been under for the past 50+ years.
- Pray for support to reach the people of North Korea. Pray that the aid may get to them. Often, you can’t feed a spirit until you’ve feed the belly. Pray that food aid would serve as a door opener for the Gospel.