Bringing Christmas to North Korea

North Korea (MNN)– To many North Koreans, Christmas is a completely foreign concept. But with the help of Alpha Relief, an initiative of Global Advance, the holiday may open doors for sharing the Gospel with North Korean migrant workers who are laboring in other countries.

In North Korea, Christmas in its truest sense, is basically forbidden, says Ben Gabriel, Alpha Relief’s director at Global Advance.

Gabriel explains that Kim Jong Un’s grandmother was born on Christmas Eve, so their government has refocused the attention of the holiday to celebrate her and her birth, rather than the birth of Christ.

“On paper, North Korea says there is religious freedom and they have a state-sanctioned Christian church,” Gabriel says. “But really, any open expression of Christianity, Christmas included, is punishable. They do punishments by a three-generation system, going after both your parents and your children if you are caught doing anything that the state is not a fan of.”

Gabriel says that people who truly believe in and celebrate Christmas must do so in secret.

“I’ve heard stories of going out into the forest to worship and celebrate together,” he says, adding that there is an underground church in the country. “It is a bit difficult to get real good reliable data on how widespread this is, but there are hidden, secret meetings of believers who worship in private and might pass each other on the street with a slight nod of the head or whatever they do to at least try to maintain some sense of community.”

Gabriel says that delivering aid to North Korea has become increasingly difficult as the political climate has escalated. Still, Global Advance’s Alpha Relief Initiative has provided some aid to the state and to a small community of underground Christians. But the greatest opportunity to minister to North Koreans has been through migrants who are laboring in other countries.

(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Some North Koreans get their first opportunity to experience the outside world by joining a migrant work program in Russia, China, or the Middle East.

Alpha Relief Initiative is empowering local believers in these countries to reach out to North Koreans in work camps with Emergency Relief Packs and the message of the Gospel.

One brave believer heard of a facility where some young North Korean women are working, and began looking for ways to reach them. The only possible way in was to go undercover and get a job there. Once inside, the discoveries were shocking.

Women aged twenty to twenty-five are forced to work twelve-hour days, and if they miss production quotas they risk losing their food rations or even being beaten. They often faint from fatigue and starvation. The women are forbidden to leave the facility and are restricted from contact with other workers. They live in constant fear, and talk very little even among themselves. Pray for this believer to find a way to gain trust, an open door, and the opportunity to share the love of Christ.

Gabriel says that the North Korean workers do not receive adequate nutrition. In some places, it’s one cup of rice a day and a tea bag. A group might receive chicken bones to share among themselves.

“They need medicine and food,” he says, adding that they have had the opportunity to provide food and emergency medical treatment for some people who were injured on the job.

The team gained unprecedented access to closed areas through their compassion. Many North Koreans are getting a glimpse of the true meaning of Christmas for the first time.

Ben Gabriel and Global Advance ask that you please join them in prayer for opportunities and open doors for the Gospel to North Korea.

You can make a gift to help bring food, warm clothing, medicine and, when possible, Bibles, to North Korean migrants, here. These are life-saving Christmas gifts which open the door to the greatest gift of all: the Gospel.


(Header photo courtesy of John Pavelka under Creative Commons via Flickr: