Open Doors World Watch List identifies countries engaged in persecution of Christians. As with many NGOs tracking human rights violations of various sorts, the methods have evolved over time into a more rigorous coding scheme overseen by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The coding rests on a five-point scale with four dimensions: the proportion of types of Christianity persecuted, the proportion of inhabited territory affected, the intensity of persecution, and the frequency of persecution.
For the twelfth year in a row, North Korea tops the list; rounding out the top ten are Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen. More detail can be found in the annual reports of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Things are likely to get worse. According to the DailyNK, the Ministry of People’s Security has issued four new guidelines for heightening surveillance. In addition to “slander” of the leadership and cracking down on “illicit substances”—presumably drugs—and recordings, the guidelines make specific mention of “superstitious activity.”
More compelling, however, is an emerging literature of testimony by Christian refugees and others operating in the country. These testimonies note both the longer-standing Christian communities that predate the division of the peninsula and the growth of proselytizing as China liberalized and missionaries started to operate in the country. A common theme in these testimonies is not only the standard message of the pervasiveness of control, but the way faith is passed from generation to generation, the growth of underground “house churches,” and the expansion of quiet but effective humanitarian work.
We are always looking for information. It is difficult to assess the scale of the phenomenon. But these testimonies are an untapped source on what is happening below the surface in the country, no doubt exactly the kind of emergent civil society the regime fears. A sampling from some of the smaller presses:
- Luther Martin, Eugene Bach and Brother Zhu, Back to the Jerusalem of the East: the Underground House Church of North Korea.
- Mr. and Mrs. Bae, as told to Rev. Eric Foley, These Are the Generations: The Story of How One North Korean Family Lived out the Great Commission for More than Fifty Years in the Most Christian-Hostile Nation in Human History. (Inter-generational history of Chinese-Korean family.)
- Paul Easterbrooks, Escape from North Korea.
- Mike Kim, Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country. (Particularly good on the cross-border movement of missionaries.)
- Dr. Sai R. Park, The Good Doctor: Bringing Healing to the Hopeless. (A Korean-American doctor’s experiences with medical missions in the North.)