By BosNewsLife Asia News Service

PYONGYANG/SEOUL (BosNewsLife)– North Korea observed the 68th birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s 68th birthday but hundreds of thousands of people, including Christians, had no reason to celebrate as they remained behind bars in prison camps across the country, and many North Koreans reportedly faced starvation.

Additionally while the country’s “Dear Leader” is “being showered with expensive gifts, the North Korean people are being tortured by their government as two forced combat campaigns of 150 days and 100 days are continuing,” said Christian advocacy and aid group Open Doors. “In these periods almost every citizen has to work actively for the state or face imprisonment.

Christians are even under more scrutiny during these combat campaigns.” Tuesday’s birthday party, which reportedly also included an ice sculpture festival, came just days after North Korea released American missionary Robert Park who was detained on Christmas Day, December 25, when he illegally entered the isolated nation from neighboring China.

Shouting “I came here to proclaim God’s love,” the missionary carried a Bible and a letter to leader Kim Jong Il asking him to release political prisoners, including those persecuted for their faith, and open the country for aid. Despite the difficulties, an estimated 400,000 Christians practice their faith in underground networks in North Korea, Open Doors said.

However, “There is a lack of Bibles and Christian teaching which can lead to false doctrines and weak foundations for these Christians.” The group said North Korea remains the “number one persecutor of Christians” for the eights straight year on its annual World Watch List of countries with religious rights violations.

Christians often suffer as North Korea’s Stalinist system is based on total devotion of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, observers who visited the country said. The ideology largely resembles a religion or cult, and refugees’ accounts say those who oppose it are dealt with severely, often ending up in prison camps.

Kim Il Sung, the man recruited in 1945 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to found the Communist North Korean state, stamped out Christianity and the traditional Buddhism and Shamanism. It comes at a time when North Koreans are also “suffering even more because of sky-rocketing inflation and the shortage of daily necessities. Nationwide, more and more people are starving to death,” Open Doors said.

The group confirmed previous reports that in Hwanghae province, there are increasing numbers of homeless children and people dying of starvation. “The situation in Hamgyung province is so severe that the local authorities are encouraging its people to receive assistance through their relatives in China,” said Open Doors. It quoted an unidentified North Korean Christian as saying that “In Hwanghae province, it’s normal to see children lying dead on the street.”

Social problems have also increased after at the end of November 2009 the government introduced a new currency as part of its economic plan to have “total control over a nationwide market system,” Open Doors observed. “North Korea is in a state of disorder due to the cancellation of the old currency and introduction of the new currency.

Yet, Open Doors-supported humanitarian goods were sent in without any major problem, the group said. Open Doors USA leader Carl Moeller said his group had asked Christians around the world to pray for the country. “I believe 2010 will be a critical year for North Korea. The Christians there are asking us not to pray for their safety but for continued strength, boldness for Christ and outreach to the poor and hungry.”

A recent letter from a North Korean Christian read in part: “Just as 2 Corinthians 6: 9-10 says, ‘Known, yet regarded as imposters; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.’ I believe that we are blessed as Christians in this world and in this period of time.”


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