When North Korea makes the news, it’s seldom a good thing. The country’s latest moves are in keeping with that pattern. As CNN’s James Griffiths writes, “Newly released satellite images show that North Korea’s prison camp system, where detainees are subjected to forced labor, torture, starvation, rape and death, may be expanding.” At least one of these camps is three times the size of Washington, DC. The UN reports that up to 120,000 men, women, and children currently reside in the “kwanliso,” as they are called in Korean. There, if fortunate, the masses are forced to work in mines, logging, and agriculture to support the government that imprisoned them, often because they were “guilty” of nothing more than watching foreign soap operas or holding a particular religious belief.
While the government denies the existence of such camps, the satellite images and testimonies from those who managed to escape prove their reality. A 2014 UN report estimated that “hundreds of thousands of political prisoners” have died in these camps over the past fifty years, often because the government used starvation, executions, and forced labor to keep the camps’ populations in check. That same report considered the violations being committed by North Korea akin to those of the Nazis during the second World War, and it’s not difficult to see why.
As Amnesty International recently described, “These camps constitute the cornerstone of the country’s large infrastructure dedicated to political repression and social control that enables widespread and systematic human rights abuses.” Essentially, the North Korean government cannot afford to shut down the camps as doing so would undermine their ability to control the people through fear and intimidation. So, they will continue to limit the freedoms of their people and use the camps to make an example of those who get even the slightest notion of resisting.
Will you take a moment to pray for those enslaved in these camps, waking up each day wondering if, and even hoping that, it will be their last? Will you also pray that God will redeem those camps by using those residents who follow Christ to help others do the same? Even if earthly salvation seems like too much to hope for in many instances, eternal salvation is readily available for any who would request it (Romans 10:13).
Once you’ve prayed for those who are suffering, will you also take a moment to ask God to help stories like this give you a bit of perspective on the pains and trials we face as believers in the West? We can lament the perceived reduction of our religious freedoms and influence, but the truth is that we have it very good in this country. Things could always be better, but what does it say about our faith when we allow ourselves to focus on what we don’t have rather than give thanks for the freedoms that we do?
You and I have done nothing to earn the privilege of living in a relatively free land where we do not have to fear incarceration, torture, and death for a slip of the tongue or professing our faith in Christ. That fact should fill us with endless gratitude for the blessings we have, while also serving as a constant reminder to pray for those born into a situation where those dangers are both real and imminent.
John Green once wrote “The degree to which I am blessed staggers me . . . the degree to which I take that for granted shames me.” Could the same be said of you today?