The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), known by many people as “North Korea,” is a small developing country in northeast Asia. The DPRK has a communist government and is widely seen as a “closed country;” but there are opportunities for tour groups, NGO workers, business people, professionals, athletes, and international students (from certain countries) to go there.
It is a nation that is proud of its independence. The country’s leadership welcome interaction with other countries but on their own terms. The country has seen many changes in the last 25 years. The DPRK is the country’s official name in English and the leadership prefer it to be called that. Locally, it is called Chosun, which is an old name for the whole Korean peninsula.
210 per km2
Ethnically homogeneous, with 99.8% Korean and a small Chinese community of 0.2%.
Traditional ethnic 15.5%
Language, Geography & Climate
Korean is a unique language but has many words with roots in Chinese. Its grammar is similar to Japanese grammar. King Sejong developed a very simple, phonetic script in 1444. The DPRK has kept many pure Korean words and tries to avoid using foreign words, apart from those words with Chinese roots and a few from other languages. The language is very similar in the North and the South but has some differences in vocabulary and pronunciation.
Korea is a mountainous peninsula jutting south-eastward from the northeast border of China. China is on the west and Japan on the east. The DPRK forms the northern half of the Korean peninsula, north of the 38thparallel. (The Koreas were divided at the end of World War II at approximately 38 degrees north latitude.)
The DPRK has four seasons, with a rainy season in the summer. The winters in the north are very cold, with snowstorms and winds from Siberia. Average temperatures in Pyongyang range from -3°C to -13°C in January; and 29°C – 20°C in August.
Korea has been its own nation for thousands of years. In the late 19thcentury, Japan and Russia grew as regional powers, with Korea caught between their fighting. In 1910, Japan claimed Korea as its colony and occupied it until 1945, when World War II ended. After liberation in 1945, the peninsula was divided by the Allied forces; the north of Korea was assisted by the USSR and the south by the USA. In 1948 a communist government was set up in the north under the leadership of Kim Il Sung, while a US-backed capitalist government was set up in the south. In 1950 the Korean War started. The DPRK was supported by the Chinese, and the south was supported by U.S. and UN forces. Fighting ceased in 1953; but since only an armistice agreement was signed then and not a peace treaty, the two are still technically at war. Today there is a heavily fortified border, the Demilitarized Zone, between the North and the South, closely watched by both sides.
Kim Il Sung led the DPRK out of poverty by helping to provide basic education and health care for all the citizens, something they had not had for a long time. He introduced the Juche (“joo-chay”) philosophy, which was based on Marxist-Leninist ideas and developed in a way that was distinct to the DPRK and different from Chinese and Soviet forms of communism. Juche teaches that man is the master of everything and the master of his own destiny. The Juche philosophy is the leading philosophy of the DPRK and emphasizes self-reliance. Kim Il Sung did not want to be dependent even upon Russia or China; he wanted the DPRK to be self-reliant and have its own form of communism. In 1977 Juche replaced Marxism in the DPRK constitution. Juche became intertwined with honoring and believing what Kim Il-Sung taught. Citizens bowed before statues and portraits of the Great Leader. All the students and adults study and know the basic tenets of Juche philosophy. Kim Il Sung was, and still is, highly respected in the DPRK. He died in 1994 and was given the title of Eternal President. His birthday is still celebrated as the most important public holiday in the DPRK.
Kim Il Sung began training his son Kim Jong Il in the 1970s and 1980s to be the next leader of the nation. Kim Jong Il became the ruler in 1994. He continued emphasizing the Juche philosophy and also emphasized the Songun (army first) policy. He is honored in much the same way as his father.
Famines broke out in the 1990s that were very severe and affected many people, especially those who were children at that time. The outside world became aware of serious food shortages in the DPRK in 1991. Flooding in the 1990s and then droughts in the early 2000s also caused less food to be produced. Many people have faced food shortages. Yet, many have resourcefully developed other ways to get food, with some producing food themselves and some relying on private markets for buying food.
Kim Jong Il died in 2011, and his son Kim Jong Un (sometimes written as Kim Jong Eun) became the next leader, at the age of about 28. He has continued many of the policies of his father and grandfather and also honored those two men very much. He has continued to develop the military but is also placing more emphasis on the economy and the development of science and technology. The government is more open to international businesses and visitors than it was in the 1990s and it is now possible for some expatriate companies to set up companies in the nation.
Both the the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) says they want unification, but both want it on their own terms. Some people think one possibility in the future is a two-state system, with some areas unified but with each state allowed to control various areas in their region. Another possibility could be that two nations continue but with more open communication and travel between the two Koreas.
Christianity was heard of in the country from the 1750s. The first Protestant missionary to Korea, Robert Thomas, went in 1865. The first residential Protestant missionaries arrived in 1884. Revival occurred in Korea from 1903-1908, largely centered in the north, but influencing many parts of the country. Pyongyang was then called the “Jerusalem of the East.” One possible reason for the greater response in the north is that the northern people were traditionally more independent and less bound by Confucian morality than their cousins in the south, and therefore more open to the Gospel. The Korean church grew rapidly from 1906 to 1910. In 1912 there were about 300,000 Korean church members among a population of 12 million. Careful Bible teaching, praying in unison, confession of sins and evangelistic effort were the distinctive marks of the revival.
Japan colonized Korea in 1910 and many Christians suffered. Another outpouring of the Spirit occurred in Pyongyang in 1945-1947 after communist leaders began to take power in the north, and many of the Christian leaders were arrested by the government.
The constitution of the DPRK states that there is religious freedom in the nation. There is a lot of evidence, though, that this is not true in practice. Access to the Bible and religious materials is very restricted, and possessing them seems to be effectively treated as a crime. Some sources say that possibly 100,000 Christians are in prison camps, and some have died.
There are four state-registered churches in Pyongyang: two Protestant churches, one Catholic church and one Orthodox church. Most people in the nation would describe themselves as atheist. DPRK Bibles are available in the state-registered churches, but it does not seem that individuals can have their own copies at home. There are reports of some very small groups of believers quietly meeting together throughout the land.
FEBC Radio broadcasts from the South into the North. It is difficult for local people to hear the broadcasts but it is believed that some do. Some have estimated that there are between 12,000 (DPRK government statistics) and 355,000 Christians (Operation World) in the North. Some Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Yet God is working in the land. The Gospel is spreading. He has His church there and His Spirit is at work. One day we will be surprised at all that the Lord did in these quiet years. The Lord loves the people of the DPRK.
How to Pray
- Pray that the Church of Jesus Christ will grow in quality, influence and size.
- Pray that the Lord would protect the believers, strengthen their faith and give them opportunities to tell others about God.
- People die every day in the North without having heard the Gospel. Many people in the North have not read the Bible or heard the name of Jesus Christ. Pray that God would work so that the Good News of Jesus will spread throughout the country.
- Pray that God would give us a sense of urgency in our prayers for the people of the DPRK.
- The current economic sanctions are affecting the people in the North. Pray that the Lord will provide what they need and that they will seek God for help.
- Pray that the international community would seek a greater understanding of the country, and would act wisely and compassionately in their dealings with the DPRK.
- The Lord is the One in control of all nations. Pray that Marshall Kim Jong-Un and other leaders around him would seek God and admit that He is God and they are not. Pray that the Lord would remind local believers to lift up their leaders in prayer.
- Some of our brothers and sisters in the Lord in the North are suffering because of their faith in Jesus. Pray that the Lord would draw near to them and make His presence known to them. Pray that the Lord would empower them to spread the Good News wherever they are.
- Many people around the world love the people of the North and want to share the Good News with them. Pray that the Lord would make a way for people to show the love of Jesus to the people in the North.
- The Lord has been faithful to believers in the North over the past decades. Pray that Lord would make a way for our brothers and sisters in the North to share their testimonies and the Good News with the rest of the world.
If you want to continue praying for the DPRK click the button below (or contact your local OMF centre) to sign up for OMF’s DPR Korea prayer bulletin which is sent out via email every 2 months.