Open Doors, which has been working to provide support and encouragement to Christians in places where persecution exists and is even rampant, shared how the faith of some North Korean believers get passed onto their families.
"Parents can't risk telling their children about their faith" in North Korea, the organization said. Christian parents wait until their children reach an appropriate age before informing them of their Christian faith.
Others, such as Lee Joo-Chan's parents, never experience that liberty.
How Lee met Christ
Before Korea was divided, Lee's mother was raised in the Christian faith. The oppression of Christians began when Kim Il-Sung took control of North Korea after the war.
"I knew my parents were different. Everybody called them ‘Communist parents,’ because they took care of the sick, the poor and the needy. At night, they read from a secret book, which I wasn’t allowed to read from," Lee said. "But I heard them whisper the words, and I knew it was their source of wisdom. I also knew that if I ever talked about this to someone else, our family would be taken away."
In the late in the '90s, he fled his homeland. After a while, she re-emerged from hiding, too. He paints a vivid picture of their encounter.
"It was a very emotional moment to meet her in China. For the first time, my mother could tell me all these things that she had kept a secret from me for over 30 years," he said.
She led Lee to an abandoned chapel where she told him about their family's secret. By the age of nine, she was acquainted with her parents' belief in Christ, as well as with the principles of service and sacrificial love during the Japanese occupation of Korea.
She discussed how Christ came to the earth and how he laid down his life for everyone. As she spoke to Lee about the Christian faith, she told him that he could also become God's child and for the next three hours, she passionately prayed for him and the people of North Korea.
Lee's mother and brother, who had also traveled to China, later returned to North Korea. They had no idea anyone had deceived them when they crossed the river and were confronted by four concealed troops.
One of them fired his rifle at Lee's mother, killing her instantly. His brother was hacked with bayonets to death. Lee was on the opposite side of the river when the killings unfolded. He also discovered that his father and other siblings had all been captured and killed.
The young man who had been prayed for by his mother was allowed to go to South Korea, finally satisfying his mother's dream by becoming a minister for Jesus.
Reasons why Christian parents just can't talk about Christ to their kids
According to Open Doors, there are three reasons why North Korean parents have avoided sharing the gospel with their children.
- Ongoing indoctrination
North Koreans are indoctrinated from birth to death and from morning to evening. Propaganda is dumped on them 24 hours a day via television, radio, newspapers, and even loudspeakers.
The phrase "Thank you, Father Kim Il-Sung" is one of the first words North Korean parents are mandated to teach their children. They also read about the "Kim family and their wonderful deeds" at school. They're taught to prostrate in front of sculptures and pictures.
Through books and animation films, Christians are demonized as wicked agents who abduct, torment, and murder innocent North Korean children before selling their blood and organs.
"I was afraid every day for my life in North Korea," Lee Joo-Chan recalls. North Korea, known for its persecution of Christians, has ranked first on Open Doors' World Watch List for 18 straight years.
However, children are not often conscious of their surroundings. They will unintentionally sing a song or share a Bible story with their friends. At school, teachers can inquire if the students' parents read from a particular black book. Hence, it is incredibly risky to spread the gospel.
- They have nobody to tell them
Thousands of North Korean children have been homeless after their Christian families were either killed, arrested, or suffered other hardships. It is possible to get to China, but also impossible to return. Many children have lost their family to North Korea's strict policies of loyalty, resulting in generations of trauma and sadness.
Seemingly accidental, but divinely ordained
The persecution watchdog also shared that North Korean children often learn the gospel by accident.
Kim Sang-Hwa, for example, found a Bible hidden in a secret closet. She soon asked her father about it, who told her of his faith but warned her not to tell anyone else.
Choi Yong Sook, who grew up in North Korea, was first exposed to Christian beliefs by conversations overheard by her two grandfathers. Her grandparents and father were later arrested for being members of a Christian network. They were able to talk their way out of trouble, but they had struggled greatly in jail. The family was then exiled to a small town.
But life was difficult, and Choi had never been taught about God. She only rediscovered the Lord after being imprisoned for attempting to flee North Korea. It happened when she overheard an elderly lady praying. She tried to imitate her by praying for her liberation first to her father, then to her grandfather. She soon realized that the most powerful Being was God, so she pleaded to him for her freedom from jail.
"Then I realized my grandfather had been right all along. God existed and had answered my prayers," she said.
Choi's first visit to a Chinese church was a life-changing moment. She converted to Christianity and now declares, "I am the fruit of my grandfathers' prayers."
In the organization's report, it's worth noting that "God works through the generations."
"After helping thousands of North Koreans who come from Christian families, Open Doors continues to discover that God seems to never let go of these families," the organization said.