Tens of thousands of Christians are imprisoned for their faith in North Korean labour camps, but for one defector, Esther*, it was going to a labour camp that led her to Jesus. Esther was arrested for escaping to China and taken back to North Korea. She says:
I was quickly sentenced to a few months detention in a small labour camp. We were treated like animals. Our cell was only two by two square meters and there were around 40 inmates in the cell! It was such a painful experience. When I tried to sleep, I would lay down on my side and put my legs up against the wall.
There was one lady in the cell who was different from anyone else. We were in a hellish situation, yet she looked so peaceful. At one point, I gave her a little push and asked her: ‘Hey, what’s going with you? Why are you so calm?’
She answered: ‘When I was in China, God treated me like a princess.’
I looked at her. She was a fragile, old lady. Why would anyone treat her like a princess? I mocked her. ‘Okay, I want to be a princess too.’
‘Alright,’ she said. ‘Just pray like me.’ I played along. So she went: ‘Thank you, God, for everything. Do what You wish. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.’
That was the strangest thing I had ever heard. ‘Why should I give thanks for this prison?’ I asked her.
’Just do it,’ she said. ‘Thank him repeatedly.’
I don’t know why but I followed her example. I gave thanks and asked God to release me.
‘God’s Princess’ shared a minimal version of the gospel with everyone in the prison cell. She told us to pray to ‘The Father,’ or ‘The One’ or ‘In Jesus’ name’. She also had a lot of faith, because she told us she would leave the prison soon. And it happened. She was able to leave with one male family member.
Three days after that first prayer, one of the guards approached me in the cell and asked: ‘Do you have any relatives around this area?’ I told him I had a brother. That evening the guard came back and said he had found my brother. That was a miracle! My brother would come soon and after a few days he showed up. He was able to give me some extra food and he also made an arrangement with the guard. He would pay a bribe in instalments and after a few months, I was released. God had answered my prayers.
A God of miracles
Once Esther was free, she escaped back to China. She says:
In China, I met a missionary and I attended his Bible study. When I studied the Bible, I was fully transformed. For example, I read about Moses and God’s ten plagues he poured out over Egypt. And I knew from experience that those plagues can be very real. I started to experience the living God. Of course, I believed in Christ and I confessed my sins. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to live in freedom and took the risk to travel to South Korea. Thanks to God’s grace, I arrived here safely.
God truly is a God of miracles. When I was in prison, I wanted to share with the outside world what’s happening in North Korea. Now, Open Doors gives me the opportunity to do exactly that.
Looking back, Esther realises that she was from a Christian family. She says:
When I was young, my grandfather had friends over on Sunday. Very often I stayed with him on weekends, but when his friends came I had to play outside, even when I didn’t want to. I didn’t understand. Sunday was a day of rest in North Korea. Why would they have another meeting?
Many years later, when I was in China, a South Korean missionary showed me a picture of a Bible. That night I dreamed of my grandfather. I saw him with his friends, kneeling around a Bible. I thought I was the first in my family to come to faith, but then I realised that my grandfather had been praying for me for all these years.
Following Christ in North Korea is done in the utmost secret. My grandfather never shared the gospel with me. He is still alive, which is why I cannot share details about him. In another dream I heard him say: ‘Keep quiet!’ And I replied to him: ‘But I know you are a believer.’
Since leaving North Korea, Esther has been able to reconnect with her family – she still has two children in North Korea. She says:
When I was in North Korea, nobody knew where my children were. But only a few months ago, somebody was able to connect me with them. We spoke on the phone and they will try to escape as soon as they are able.
God has done many miracles, but I’m still asking for a few more. First, that my children will come to South Korea, and second, that I’ll be able to share the gospel with them so that they will also become followers of Christ. Thank you for faithfully praying for North Korea. There’s still a lot to improve, but thankfully, God is using your prayers to perform many miracles.
The most dangerous place to be a Christian
North Korea is number one on the Open Doors 2018 World Watch List, making it the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Despite this, Open Doors estimates that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians in North Korea, worshiping secretly, or imprisoned in labour camps.
Open Doors workers risk their lives to smuggle Bibles and other vital aid, such as food and medicine, into North Korea, to support persecuted Christians. Open Doors also runs safe houses for North Korean defectors in China, and broadcasts Christian radio programs into North Korea. Open Doors has launched an appeal to support this work.
*Name changed for security reasons