There are no Christian children in North Korea, a country where people are taught to worship only the ruling Kim dynasty and where believing or suggesting anything else is to sign a death warrant for one’s self and one’s children.
Lee Joo-Chan only learned the ‘family secret’ – namely that his parents were Christians – as an adult, after he fled North Korea. In the short time he was in China, reunited with his mother, she told him.
“I knew my parents were different. Everybody called them ‘communist parents’, because they took care of the sick, the poor and the needy,” he told the Christian charity Open Doors. “At night, they read from a secret book, which I wasn’t allowed to read from. 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.”
‘I was so scared’
As part of the ongoing indoctrination that every North Korean is exposed to, children constantly hear about the ways in which the Kim family is taking care of the people, and in books Christians are portrayed as “evil”.
Parents can’t risk telling their children about their faith because they might innocently start singing a song or telling friends a Bible story, and teachers might start asking questions.
But some children discover it themselves and confront their parents, like Kim Sang-Hwa. She was 12 when she found a book, hidden in a closet. Curious, she started reading, but then realised that she was holding something potentially very dangerous: “I was so scared,” she told Open Doors. “I was taught about the evolution theory, so I knew this book was illegal. My discovery could cost me my life. I was afraid to touch the Bible, but I couldn’t just leave it there. I closed my eyes, picked up the book and put it back. I weighed my options: Should I tell my teacher? Should I visit the local security official? For 15 days, I couldn’t think of anything else. I knew it was my duty to report this illegal book. But it was my family that was involved. And I also had all these questions: ‘Who is this God?’ Or ‘what?’”
Eventually she decided to speak to her father about it and her parents told her about their Christian faith.
There are many children in North Korea who would never have such a conversation with their parents because the harsh living conditions in North Korea have caused the breakdown of families.
Yesterday (30 January) the United Nations Children’s Fund said an estimated 60,000 children in North Korea “face potential starvation … where international sanctions are exacerbating the situation by slowing aid deliveries”.