“Forty-two” might sound like an insignificant number to most. But for one North Korean Christian, this abstract figure is the very thing that identifies who she is. “Prisoner 42” is the simple name that was assigned to one anonymous North Korean inmate on the day this faithful believer in Jesus walked into the squalid prison she now calls home.
“The name I was born with in North Korea was the first thing they took away from me when I arrived here in this North Korean prison,” Prisoner 42 told Open Doors USA in a recent interview.
Speaking of the harsh treatment she has received at the facility, the inmate explained how she is “beaten and kicked” on a daily basis.
“It hurts the most when they hit my ears. My ears ring for hours, sometimes days,” she said.
Every day, she revealed, Prisoner 42 is marched into an interrogation room where guards bark questions at her about her religious background:
“Did you go to church?”
“Did you have a Bible?”
“Did you meet any South Koreans?”
“Are you a Christian?” they scream.
Tragically, despite wholly trusting in Jesus Christ, “42” is unable to confess her love for the Lord while within the confines of North Korean incarceration.
“Am I a Christian? Yes,” she said. “I love Jesus. But I deny it. If I admit that I was helped by Chinese Christians, I will be killed, either quickly or slowly.”
“They will murder me in this North Korean prison,” she added.
With the confiscation of all her earthly possessions, Prisoner 42 has absolutely nothing to help fill the hours she endures in solitary confinement. There is just one comfort, she says, and that is prayer.
“All I can do is pray. And sing—in my heart,” she explained. “Never out loud. In my head, I sing a song I wrote:
My heart longs for my Father in this prison
Although the road to truth is steep and narrow
A bright future will be revealed when I continue
Without faith, calamity will strike in this road
Allow me to go forth towards the fortress
Although there may be much grief and complications
How could I follow in the footsteps of my God?
With tears, my heart longs for my Father in this prison
Father, please accept this sinful daughter
Please protect me in your mountain fortress and under your shield
Take me under your wings of peace
Father’s voice that comes from the sky
Guide me to your blessings daily”
Despite the relentless hardship and suffering that Prisoner 42 has had to endure, she also recalled moments of hope and joy when encountering fellow Christians behind the barbed wire of her concentration camp. Holed up in her bed during a period of illness, 42 noticed a figure, cloaked in a blanket, in the corner of her barracks.
“It was moving,” she said. “I studied it and realized that underneath it was a person.”
When she went to investigate the mystery person, she heard unearthly noises — the person was praying in tongues.
“I went back to my mattress and watched her for days,” 42 recalled.
Then, eventually, she plucked up the courage to go and engage with the anonymous Christian woman.
“Hello, greetings in Jesus’ name,” she said boldly.
The woman, 42 said, was “completely shocked.”
“Fortunately, I could calm her down quickly before her gasps alerted the guards,” she added.
Soon, a friendship, and a clandestine congregation, began to flourish.
“When we met and felt safe enough, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed,” 42 said. “She was actually much braver than I was. She spoke to others about Christ as well.”
Tragically, one day, the sister-in-Christ was shipped off to a maximum-security prison. At the moment, 42 knew that she would never set eyes on her dear friend again.
Still, despite the testing circumstances, there is hope for Prisoner 42.
“God has been with me every day, every hour, every minute and every second,” she said. “Yesterday, I learned I would be released. I have only served two years here. The first thing I’ll do when I get out is find my husband and children. They are much bigger now. We haven’t seen each other in years.”
“God has watched over me here in this North Korean prison, and I pray and believe that he also watches over my family every second of every minute of every hour of every day,” concluded 42, adding that she is excited to share Jesus with them upon their reunion.
North Korea, as our readers may well know, is commonly understood to be the most oppressive place on Earth for Christians — something that was confirmed once again by Open Doors USA’s World Watch List. For the 18th year in a row, North Korea topped the rankings.
The hard facts North Korean persecution
According to charity Aid to the Church in Need, at least 200,000 Christians have gone missing in North Korea since 1953 — many of those have been summarily executed. As to the specific treatment of those persecuted, the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report discovered that the North Korean regime has been guilty of “crimes against humanity.”
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, violent incidents against Christians include “being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.”
By all accounts, North Korea is a hellish place for Christians to live. As such, the faithful believers, such as Prisoner 42, who continue to endure fierce persecution for believing in Christ, must have our prayers at all times.