North Korea is one of the world's most secretive countries, and is counted as having one of the most repressive regimes on earth, with the Church in North Korea having been forced underground for decades.
Western Christians often assume underground churches are unable to reach people with the gospel, because of the severe restrictions placed on them.
However a report in The Telegraph this week has claimed a growing number of North Koreans are rejecting Kim Jong-un as their god and are now more open to alternative belief systems, including Christianity.
A defector was quoted in the article as saying the Christian church is "growing and deepening its roots" in the nation.
"In the past, the people were told to worship the Kim family as their god, but many North Koreans no longer respect Kim Jong-un", he said. "That means they are looking for something else to sustain their faith."
Although the defector confirmed that officially sanctioned persecution of religious minorities is "stronger than before", they added, "Even though people know they could be sent to prison - or worse - they are still choosing to worship, and that means that more cracks are appearing in the regime and the system".
The cult of personality
We should not underestimate the level of persecution that Christians face in North Korea. According to the Christian charity Open Doors, North Korea has been the worst persecutor of Christians for the past 15 years.
The irony is that religious freedom is technically allowed in North Korea under Article 64 of their constitution, which says: "The State shall effectively guarantee genuine democratic rights and liberties as well as the material and cultural well-being of all its citizens."
When it comes to religious influences, Confucism has played a pivotal role in shaping the ideas and philosophies of the Korean Peninsula, although its popularity has waned considerably over the years.
Why is North Korea consistently ranked as being the most oppressive place for Christians to live? The answer possibly lies in what is know as the cult of personality - where a public figure is intentionally presented to the people as a great person who should be loved and admired. The Kim family have used this method of rule since Kim II-sung first took power in 1948. The use of propaganda through state-controlled media, and tight restrictions on outside global information sources such as the Internet, has helped the Kim family maintain a God-like status.
The practice of any other faith (including Christianity) is seen as direct competition, and is met with beatings, torture, imprisonment and even death.
North Korea will not escape God's judgement
In this sense, Kim Jong-un's treatment of Christians is not dissimilar to Herod's who sought to destroy Christ when he learned of the prophecy detailed in Matthew chapter 2. In fact Kim Jong-un comes across as composite of both of the biblical Herod's, in that he not only seeks to brutality stamp out any perceived threat to his dominance, but like the other Herod (Acts 12:21-23), he doesn't correct his citizens when they worship him. This is why he needs to be very careful, because like the same Herod of Agrippa, God can choose to strike him down at any moment for the same reason.
Despite what plans men make, we’re only here for a very short season (James 4:14), and even the most brilliant minds cannot thwart the plans of God.
All citizens under Kim Jong-un’s regime will have the gospel preached to them before they die
Jesus said in Matthew 5:18 that until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. And as Christ said, the gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world before the end will come (Matthew 24:14). This explains the testimonies of North Korean defectors such as Joseph Kim who had never even heard the words Christianity and church, until a friend advised him to seek one out in China to escape the poverty he was currently living in.
Even if the efforts of outside missionaries such as pastor Hyeon Soo Lim (who was released by North Korea earlier this month) are hindered by men like Kim Jong-un, the scriptures say that in the last days, God will pour out his Spirit on all people. (Acts 2:17) So sooner or later, whether it’s through evangelism or Christ himself appearing in the flesh, all citizens under Kim Jong-un’s regime will have the gospel preached to them before they die (Titus 2:11).
Nations like North Korea, which continue to persecute Christians will not escape God's judgement (Matthew 25:41-46).
Despite Kim Jong-un’s atrocities, we must continue to pray for him, as well as the country itself, because not only is it biblical that we should pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:2), but because it is God’s will for all people to be saved. After all, Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus lets us know that even the most prolific persecutors of the church can come to Christ.
Andrew Hamilton-Thomas is a social commentator, aspiring political journalist and co-presenter for a weekly Christian radio show - The Genesis Show