Christianity growing in North Korea despite state-sponsored persecution, says defector

Christianity continues to grow in North Korea despite the government's efforts to suppress the faith and persecute its followers, according to a defector and missionary who asked people to pray for the religious freedom situation in the reclusive state.

(REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji)South Korean Christians and former North Korean defectors living in the South march during a rally to protest against what they say is North Korea's violation of human rights, in Seoul January 27, 2012.

During the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. on May 12, North Korean defector and Christian missionary Kim Chung-seong asked the international community to pray for the believers in his home country. Speaking to reporters via a translator, he said the persecution and threat being faced by Christians there only serve to strengthen their faith, Catholic News Agency relays.

"It is my prayer that all the international Christian communities will pray for those North Korean Christians to really help and engage them to spread the Gospel, not only through the works of the underground Church network, but also through the government and request for this religious freedom that they are earnestly praying for," Kim said during the summit.

In addition, Kim said the most important task for Christians is to share the Gospel of Christ to the North Korean people so that they will be "set free."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has released its 2017 annual report which says freedom of religion is nonexistent and is suppressed through imprisonment, torture, arrests, and execution in the reclusive state.

Kim recalled how the North Korean blacklisted all Christian missionaries who entered the country and threw more than half of them into hard labor prison camps. However, he said the Christian faith continues to expand because of the persecution that the believers are experiencing.

"They [the government] will do anything to prevent the spread of the Gospel in North Korea," Kim added. "[But] as you can see, we cannot block the sunlight with our hand."

At the end of his speech, Kim asked Christians to pray for their counterparts in North Korea that they may be able to enjoy religious freedom. He also urged them to pray for the unification of the North and the South.

Meanwhile, Christian charity Open Doors has warned would-be North Korean defectors that escaping across the border has now become more difficult amid the country's rising tensions with the U.S. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has reportedly tightened surveillance and security along the borders, the Express reports.

Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson called on China to honor its obligations under the Refugee Convention and protect North Koreans who defect to its border. He said these refugees should not be deported back to their home country because they will be subjected to torture and other horrific violence back there.