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What Does Missions Look Like in North Korea?

May 10, 2024 |  By Rebecca Olsen

North Korea is one of the most private but most intriguing countries in the world. We know very little about life there, including about Christians and what missions look like. What little we know from history, defector reports, and estimations shows North Korea is simultaneously a place of great despair and hope.

History of Christian Mission Work

Catholic missionaries were the first to bring Christianity to Korea in the 1700s. The government was heavily suppressing indigenous spiritual practices, so Christianity flourished. Many converts lived in the northern part of Korea at the time.

Protestant missionaries came in the 1880s when the Korean elite hoped to transform the country and inspire patriotism. These missionaries brought the Gospel and founded schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages, helping modernize much of the country and receiving approval from many leaders.

Unfortunately, Japan took over and occupied Korea from 1910-1945, heavily persecuting Christians. You can read more about Japan’s relationship with Christianity and missions in our blog.

The communist regime established North Korea in 1945, and many Christians fled to South Korea. While the new constitution technically allowed freedom of religion, it clearly stated that all forms of evangelism were illegal. This constitution made Christian mission work difficult.

Current Persecution and Challenges

The ban on evangelism isn’t the only challenge facing mission work and Christian life in North Korea. Many refugees and defectors claim that owning a Bible or attending a house church can result in forced labor camp imprisonment, as well as torture and even death. This can extend to family members of imprisoned Christians, as well, including children.

Based on this knowledge, you may find it surprising that there are several churches in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. There is one Catholic, one Russian Orthodox, and several Protestant churches. Unfortunately, many refugees and defectors share that these buildings exist for propaganda purposes, and most North Koreans aren’t even aware of their existence.

These conflicting reports from former North Koreans and the government make it difficult to accurately describe the number of Christians in the country and the persecution they may face. Open Doors, a non-denominational mission that helps persecuted Christians around the world, listed North Korea first out of 50 countries where it is most challenging to be a Christian.

Current Opportunities for the Gospel

Although Christians face many difficulties in North Korea, there are still many opportunities for the Gospel. Advancing Native Missions partners with people around Asia to give food and medicine to starving, impoverished North Koreans. At least 42% of the population would be considered malnourished, so these supplies are essential. Each food and medicine delivery contains at least one secret Bible as well.

Desperation for resources, including the hope of the Gospel, has led many people to a saving faith in Jesus. Many reports extol the strength of the underground church throughout North Korea, where they truly believe that God is their only hope.

God is working with North Koreans outside of their home country as well. Our partners in Mongolia, China, and South Korea offer various types of support for North Korean immigrants and defectors, from evangelism to orphan care to language education and more.

How You Can Support North Korea Missionaries

Since the North Korean church has such a strong faith, we can only encourage and support them. There are two significant ways to do so: financially and spiritually.

Financial donations through ANM allow us to supply basic necessities such as food, medicine, wool socks, Bibles, and more to suffering North Koreans. Some of the recipients may be secret Christians, but many are not, so this is an excellent opportunity to share the Gospel. Prayer goes beyond these needs to spiritually support imprisoned Christians, refugees, defectors, native missionaries, and others.

If you’re unsure how to pray for North Korean Christians and native missionaries, you can download our free 7 Days of Prayer for Missionaries guide. Each day will provide an example of how you can pray for native missionaries serving in their own countries and communities around the world, including North Korea.

While we remain fascinated by the secrecy of North Korea, we know some of what missions look like there and how we can support native Christians. Thank you for joining us in financially and spiritually supporting North Korean Christians.

Download our free 7 Days of Prayer for Missionaries guide to pray for native missionaries and secret Christians in North Korea.