". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Christmas Message in a Bottle: Outreach to North Korea’s Christians Grows

December 27, 2023

As the ban on Christmas and all other religious practices persists under the communist regime of dictator Kim Jong Un in North Korea, religious freedom advocates are continuing their efforts to spread the knowledge of Christianity to the North Korean people in creative ways.

Earlier this week, the North Korean Freedom Coalition organized an effort to launch bottles into the Yellow Sea containing a week supply of rice for a family of four, a flash drive loaded with the Bible and other content, and a $1 bill. The bottles were launched in a location where the current will likely wash them on the shores of the North Korean peninsula.

The flash drives also contain North Korean music with the lyrics changed to Christian themes instead of homages to Kim Jong Un, as well as recorded messages from congressmen including Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) as well as Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) which describe what Christmas is and North Korea’s history of celebrating it.

Under the current dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, up to 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned for being caught practicing their faith. An estimated 400,000 Christians are thought to secretly practice their faith in the country. Earlier this year, Open Doors listed North Korea as the world’s foremost persecutor of Christians. According to a 2022 report, Christians are singled out by the regime and are given longer detention periods and are interrogated and tortured (including the worst forms of torture) for longer periods than other groups are.

As noted by Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, “Possession of a Bible can be life-threatening. One North Korean defector testified that ‘many North Korean refugees have Bibles with them when they are repatriated. If they are caught carrying a Bible, they are punished. In North Korea, you can get away with murder if you have good connections. However, if you get caught carrying a Bible, there is no way to save your life.’”

She went on to highlight a U.N. report which found that those discovered to have been in contact with Christian churches “may be forcibly ‘disappeared’ into political prison camps, imprisoned in ordinary prisons or even summarily executed.” To make matters worse, the regime “punishes crimes to the third generation of the offender, so if the government discovers a Christian, the Christian’s family is often sent to a prison camp as well.”

Due to the erasure of religion in North Korean culture under the regime’s policies, the vast majority of the population is unaware of the existence of Christ or the celebration of Christmas. North Korean defector Kang Jimin recently described how he was “completely unaware of Christmas while living there.”

“There is no Christmas in North Korea,” he explained. “I did not know what it was. Christmas is Jesus Christ’s birthday, but North Korea is obviously a communist country, so people do not know who Jesus Christ is. They do not know who God is. The Kim family is their god.”

Still, for those few North Koreans who have managed to come to the knowledge of Christ, they have found ways to celebrate Christmas under even the most dire conditions imaginable. One source recently told Open Doors, “I met a Christian lady imprisoned for her faith, who celebrated Christmas inside a North Korean labor camp. She had had daily ideological training, where the prison guards read newspapers to the inmates. Christians, therefore, always knew when it was Christmas, so every Christmas Day she and her five secret converts would celebrate in the toilet building with a short worship meeting. They sang softly. They risked a lot in doing so but miraculously she and the other Christians with her were never caught.”

Part of the devotion of the North Korean Christians is likely due to the country’s rich Christian history, and some have managed to pass down the faith to their families despite the immense dangers. Before the communist regime’s takeover of the country in 1948, the Korean peninsula was known as a hub of Christianity, with a surge in growth of the faith in the early 1900s. Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, was then known as the “Jerusalem of the East.”

This history is included on the flash drive in the bottles bound for North Korea as part of a Christmas message from North Korean Freedom Coalition Chair Suzanne Scholte. “Christmas, which is celebrated all over the world on December 25th, marks the day when Jesus was born,” she states. “Many of your ancestors also believed in Jesus. In fact, in 1907, in Pyongyang, there were so many Christians who believed in Jesus that Pyongyang became known as a Holy City. But when Kim Il Sung came to power, he wanted North Koreans to worship him as a god, and not the one true God. So, he killed many Christian leaders, sent others to political prison camps, or banished them.”

Scholte’s group has so far conducted 17 launches of the bottles, which is part of its “Operation Truth.” According to Scholte, the effort “is modeled after the Berlin Airlift, to get critical help to the starving people of North Korea.”

“We should be doing everything we can to get information into North Korea by land, by sea, and by air,” Scholte urged. “We must communicate to the people in power in Pyongyang that they have friends and allies in Korea and America, who have only one desire for them: to share with [them] the benefits of a free people, to give them a life of ho[p]e instead of despair.”

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.