Secret Worship: N. Korea Defector Tells of Survival
SEOUL, South Korea -- Some North Koreans have been able to escape from the Communist country and its strict human rights violations. Kim Eun Jin is one of those survivors.
The 31-year-old was born in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim's testimony is rare considering the numbers on North Korea.
America's Central Intelligence Agency estimates that some 24 million people live in North Korea. The best estimate is about 2 percent or 480,000 of them are Christians.
"Growing up I was told by the authorities that there was no God in this world," Kim recalled. "We were ordered instead to worship Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the leaders of the country."
Freedom of religion is guaranteed under North Korea's constitution, but it's never encouraged.
"We met every Saturday evening," Kim said, explaining what it was like being a believer in North Korea.
"My family gathered in the back room of our small apartment," she continued. "We had to be very quiet. We whispered when we prayed, sang songs or read the Bible. We often covered our heads to muffle the noise."
A Secret Revealed
Growing up, Kim said she heard stories of how her native city Pyongyang was once known as the "Jerusalem of the East."
In 1945, 13 percent of the population was Christian. The city was the center of Christianity on the Korean Peninsula. Half a century later, Kim's faith made her a target.
"My parents often asked me to stay outside the apartment on Saturdays to make sure no one was coming while the family prayed inside. We couldn't allow anyone to know what was going on," she told CBN News.
Over time, the meetings grew to include a few friends and extended family.
"We had one Bible in the house. My grandmother, who was a believer from the Japanese Imperial times, had a Chinese Bible. She translated the Bible by hand into the Korean language on pieces of paper. That's how we read the Bible. We found strength in those pages," Him said.
But soon the authorities discovered that her father was a secret believer.
"My father was a tailor in town and the police suspected something was going on," she recalled. "We believe they planted listening devices in his shop and on his clothes."
In 1994, police discovered that Kim's father was operating a secret underground church. They raided the house, arrested him along with an uncle, and both men likely ended up in one of the six labor camps dotting North Korea.
"The day my father was arrested I was at school, but I'll never forget that day. He hugged me before I left for school and like every other day he reminded me to be careful," Kim said.
"Every morning at the breakfast table he would tell us that one day the government will come and arrest us for being Christians. He warned us of the price we would some day pay for our faith. I remember him saying often that 'Even if I face death I will follow Jesus,'" she added.
Christians Held Captive
Some 200,000 prisoners are being held in political prison camps in North Korea. An estimated 30,000 of them are Christians. The regime is routinely sited for human rights violations.
Won Jae-chun is a professor of law in South Korea's Handong International Law School.
"They (North Korean Christians) are treated as criminals, especially as terrorists, and they are prosecuted based on national security crimes of North Korea," he said.
A video obtained by CBN News shows what's believed to be the execution of North Korean Christians.
"I hereby declare that the accused is sentenced to death. The death penalty must be executed at once. Ready! Fire! Fire!" a man in the video says.
Kim doubts her father is alive today.
"Everyone knows what happens when government agents arrest Christians in North Korea. They never make it out alive," she told CBN News.
"I know my father is in Heaven and he's praying for North Korea and my family," Kim said tearfully.
In a Better Place
Kim's mother, grandmother and siblings managed to escape to the mountains.
In 2005, with the help of a Chinese pastor, she crossed the Tumen River and defected to China. Her family followed months later.
"It was a difficult decision. I knew that if I got caught I'd be arrested and sent to a prison camp," she said. "But my family defected because we were being persecuted in North Korea for our faith."
Today Kim is married, has a baby boy and lives in Seoul, South Korea.
"I am very proud of what she did. Her family has gone through a lot over the years. She is a hero in my eyes," Kim's husband Jeong Hyung Shin said.
Kim is quick to brush aside those compliments, and instead gives honor to the man who laid down his life.
"I grew up in a land where they said there was no God. But my father told me otherwise. He loved Christ and for that he died," she said.
Kim has a dream to one day go back to Pyongyang and share this love with the people of North Korea.
"We are getting ready for that day when the doors open," Kim said.
*Originally aired February 11, 2012.