That’s the number of Bibles distributed in North Korea over the past 34 years by ANM’s regional partner, known for security reasons as North Korea Outreach.
It is amazing that Bibles can even be sent to North Korea. Simply owning one there is a crime. In fact, any practice of Christian faith invites severe persecution, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in the North Korea section of its 2016 Annual Report:
The North Korean government reserves its most severe persecution for Christians, although in practice the regime is adverse to all organized religion. Based on information collected by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, individuals face persecution for propagating religion, possessing religious items, carrying out religious activities (including praying and singing hymns), and having contact with religious persons. Christians believed to have committed any of these acts are typically jailed, or worse.
What began as a trickle of scriptures in the 1980s became a flood in 1994. Following the death of dictator Kim Il Sung that year, as the nation slid into an economic and food crisis, thousands of refugees poured out of North Korea. That crisis alone resulted in the deaths of an estimated 900,000 to as many as 2.4 million citizens of North Koreans between 1994 and 1998. North Korea Outreach responded to the mass exodus and economic crisis with both the gospel and the compassion of Jesus, providing food, training, and Bibles. Amazingly, many new believers chose to return to North Korea carrying a passion for the gospel and Bibles in the North Korean language. Some of these returning believers were caught, imprisoned, and tortured. Nevertheless, since 1994 more than 1,600 new underground churches have been planted by believers with the help of North Korea Outreach.
The connection between Bible delivery and church planting is both organic and complementary. Like seed to a farmer, the Bible is essential to the planting of new congregations. New underground churches are spiritually watered and fed as believers gather around the scriptures, faithfully preached and taught.
So what do these underground churches look like? We asked our partner, and they responded with this humbling description:
Underground believers of North Korea cannot worship freely as we do. Therefore, they usually worship at home. They also occasionally meet in secret places such as fields and mountains. Their worship is not a form, but a reality. Their worship is earnest; their tearful prayers and silent praise are quiet and should humble us. They are actually worshiping and praying in the inner room described by Jesus:
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
In addition to Bibles, North Korea Outreach also delivers training materials for adults and children in both print and digital versions. Since it is impossible under the present North Korean regime to operate a traditional seminary, missionaries distribute digital seminary tools for underground church leaders. In 2018 alone, North Korea Outreach delivered more than 8,400 copies of the Bible in the North Korean language. This includes more than 1,300 digital Bibles with seminary tools.
North Korea Outreach believes that 1 Corinthians 3:6–7 defines their ministry in North Korea: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”