Church Hopping: The Underground Churches of North Korea

Yesterday two U.S. reporters, Euna Lee and Laura Ling (former “The View" cohost Lisa Ling’s sister), were sentenced to twelve years of hard labor at a North Korean prison. The California-based reporters for Al Gore’s Current TV had been arrested back in March for allegedly (they may have actually been nabbed) crossing North Korea’s border illegally and performing “unspecified ‘hostile acts,’” according to the AP. [Photo also via the AP]

The reporters were in the area to investigate and report on the trafficking of North Korean women. Human trafficking -- the buying and selling of men, women, and children for labor, sex, and organs -- has become one of the world's fastest growing crimes. "This is happening around the world with estimated 800,000 to 2.5M people annually (many of them children) illegally trafficked as slaves; 80% as sex slaves (including child prostitution & child sex tours) & 18% in forced labor, forced marriages, or forced organ donation," according to this article.

According to the Huffington Post:

The two journalists, along with a male cameraman and a guide, were headed to Yanji, across the border from North Korea's far northeastern corner, where they planned to interview women forced by human traffickers to strip for online customers and meet with children of defectors, according to the Rev. Chun Ki-won of the Seoul-based Durihana Mission, a Christian group that helps defectors.

Then they planned to travel to Dandong, said Chun who helped the journalists organize the trip.
Euna Lee and Laura Ling are women in their early to mid-thirties. Yesterday their families released a statement that said, "Laura has a serious medical condition that is sure to be exacerbated by the drastic sentence. Euna has a 4-year-old daughter who is displaying signs of anguish over the absence of her mother."

Following the reporters' arrest on March 17, there was a five-day trial, which was closed to foreigners. The Communist country sentenced them to the strictest term sanctioned. North Korean labor prisons have a reputation for harsh living conditions and abuse, but more recently those who have been set free have not complained of abuse. It is possible too that because of their highly public status, these reporters will not be exposed to the worst prisons. However, with North Korea and their scare tactics (ie, all that nuclear testing), you never know.

According to this AP report:

The Americans would likely be sent to a prison in Sariwon, about 58 kilometers (36 miles) south of Pyongyang, said the defector, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of his job. The Sariwon prison usually houses purged party members, he said.

The facility was built in the early 1990s as a "showcase" prison for international human rights groups doing inspection tours. The prison's architecture is better than ordinary government buildings, and it has televisions, refrigerators and beds in each room, the former official said.

It is scary that journalists can be sentenced to twelve years of hard labor for doing their job, for reporting the facts. Here two young women were essentially arrested for speaking up on an issue that needs to be exposed and addressed. If we don't speak out on what we believe in, there may be no voice for the voiceless.
In researching this article, no reports have come up that say that the reporters are Christian, however, as noted above, they were working with a Christian organization in their attempt to raise awareness about human trafficking. It should be pointed out, therefore, Christians have by and large been silenced in North Korea. There are a few churches in the country but "Under North Korea’s policy of juche, or self-reliance, citizens may worship only President Kim Jong Il and his late father, former ruler Kim Il Sung," according to ReligionNewsBlog. At least 40,000 of the 200,000 people in political prison camps in North Korea are Christian, according to that same article.

In this segment of Church Hopping, let us therefore pray for the underground churches in North Korea, persecuted churches throughout the world, those who are forced into modern-day slavery known as human trafficking, ministries and secular media that are working to be a voice for the voiceless, freedom of speech, and for Euna Lee and Laura Ling.


  1. Thank you so much, Stephanie for this post.

  2. Awesome pictures on this!!

  3. This article was awesome, stephanie! This case is an outrage! I will indeed be praying for all of the above.