A North Korean defector has recalled her harrowing experience of spending time in one of the communist nation’s notorious labor camps. Incredibly, despite her horrific ordeal, she ended up coming to Jesus during her period of incarceration.
Esther, who has had her name changed for security reasons, told religious freedom charity Open Doors that she and the other inmates were “treated like animals” and that there were 40 of them crammed into a two-by-two cell. Despite the dire situation, Esther said she was profoundly impacted by a Christian woman who somehow held onto her faith through the horrific treatment they endured.
“At one point, I gave her a little push and asked her ‘Hey, what’s going on with you? Why are you so calm?'” Esther explained.
“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.'”
Esther admitted that she was baffled by how this faith-filled woman was able to thank God while being confined to a North Korean prison, but she reluctantly prayed along. The woman, nicknamed “God’s Princess” was able to share the gospel with everyone in the prison cell. It wasn’t long before she was released from the prison – something that very rarely occurs. Then, just three days after Esther prayed, the detention center also allowed her to leave with the promise that her brother would pay bribes to one of the prison guards.
Once Esther was freed, she escaped back to China and immediately attended a Bible study. She said she was fully transformed by the love of God and gave her life to Christ without hesitation.
She said: “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.”
Esther was convinced that she was the first person in her entire family to become a follower of Jesus. But then God revealed something extraordinary to her in a dream – her grandfather had been praying that she would come to faith for a number of years. “Following Christ in North Korea is done in the utmost secret,” she explained. “My grandfather never shared the gospel with me.”
“He is still alive, which is why I cannot share details about him,” Esther explained. “In another dream I heard him say ‘Keep quiet!’ And I replied to him ‘But I know you are a believer.'”
Esther now resides in South Korea and has been able to reconnect with some of her family. However, she is still separated from her daughter, who remains in the North. “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,” she said.
Despite North Korea being ranked as the most dangerous place in the world to be a practicing Christian, it is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 believers currently living in the communist nation. Many of these are confined to labor camps or are forced to worship in highly secretive “underground” Churches.
The situation in Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian nation is detailed on the Open Doors website:
“Due to constant indoctrination, neighbors and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered, they are deported to labor camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate. Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes,” the website reads.
Open Doors also offers some key prayer points for this oppressed country and its persecuted Christian community:
- For God to comfort and strengthen His followers, especially those who suffer in prisons, labour camps and remote areas
- That God would speak to Kim Jong-Un, giving him a revelation of Jesus, the servant king
- That the power of evil in this nation will be broken and its people healed and restored.
Testimonies such as the one detailed in this article are all too common – Christians assigned a brutal sentence of a “life of labor” in one of these savage camps – only to find the hope of Christ in the midst of their seemingly hopeless circumstances.
“Every day was as if God was pouring out all ten plagues on us simultaneously. That’s how hard it was. But God also comforted me and brought a secret fellowship into existence. Every Sunday we would gather in the toilets and pray,” former Christian labor camp captive Hea-Woo told Open Doors. She was able to escape, but most are not so lucky.
Open Doors estimates that somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in these camps. Most will die there.