As North Korea nears the end of its planting season (its chief food source, rice, is planted in late spring and early summer), reports are leaking out about the country’s dire food situation. The winter cold may be over, but now the country is facing a food shortage as supplies have been exhausted.
In response, and to try to restock food supplies, North Korea has launched a “rural mobilization campaign” in which soldiers and non-farming civilians are “asked” to do agricultural work. In reality, these campaigns are demands and refusal is not allowed under the North Korean regime.
This year, as noted by DailyNK, more and more people are refusing to participate in the mobilization campaign. The agricultural work is usually very difficult, involving long hours of hard labor, often on an empty stomach. Farms are experiencing a labor shortage, and, as DailyNK reports, many people have tried to avoid the work despite North Korean authorities’ response of setting up checkpoints to catch people avoiding the mobilization.
Many North Koreans take the risk, however. They are too hungry and don’t receive rations through either the farms or their own neighborhood units. Every North Korean citizen is placed in a neighborhood unit, which is responsible for monitoring its members, for disseminating propaganda and distributing food coupons.
A new report from the BBC makes it clear how dire the current situation is in North Korea. One woman in Pyongyang went to check on her neighbors, she told the BBC. “We knocked on their door to give them water, but nobody answered,” Ji Yeon said. Her neighbors had starved to death at home.
The same BBC report notes that the borders have remained closed since 2020, due to COVID restrictions. This has led to tightening restrictions for people trying to cross to China, where they can hope to gain access to lifesaving food and other aid. In the meantime, food prices have skyrocketed. A kilogram (a little more than two pounds) now costs more than 5,000 North Korean won, which is the equivalent of about $6. A kilo of corn costs around $3. When you consider that the average salary for a North Korean is only 5,000-10,000 won per month, you begin to see how devastating the current crisis is. It’s incredibly difficult to survive on such meager rations.
The North Korean government has announced that it is importing more rice from other countries, but many people do not benefit from this. “Because of the lack of food in North Korea, the government has been importing large quantities of food from China,” says Brother Simon Lee*, Open Doors' coordinator for our North Korea ministry. “According to up-to-date news from North Korean believers, the imported food was distributed primarily to the high-ranking government officials, then to the soldiers. Only a very small amount was released in the market for the ordinary people. This is why hunger is continuous throughout the country.”
For Christians in North Korea, this reality adds to the painful experience of being hunted for following Jesus. North Korea, No. 1 on the 2023 World Watch List is the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian; to be caught as a Christian is to risk arrest, imprisonment and even immediate execution. Adding to the daily pressure of food insecurity and mobilization orders, and life becomes difficult to bear.
Open Doors supports North Korean Christians through our secret networks in China. Christians who are able to get through the borders, even during increased restrictions, are able to find food aid and help. Our safe houses can aid a little less than 100 people at a time, but thanks to your support, we’re able to help people as they come and go—including those who return to North Korea where they continue to live as salt and light for Jesus.
Obviously, this level of help is only the minimum in the face of such a significant food crisis. But Brother Simon tells us that God still finds a way to show His mercy and grace through His people in North Korea.
“Underground church believers are requesting lots of prayer, that they can endure this difficult time.” BROTHER SIMON*, OPEN DOORS
“There are inspiring stories told to us that [North Korean] believers are helping their neighbors—sharing food, medicine and other resources they own, even though the food is not enough for even themselves,” Brother Simon says. “Secret believers are practicing God’s love behind the scenes and thanking us for the help and prayer. All the glory to God who is feeding His children in this terrible time of starvation and poverty!”
Brother Simon also asks us to stand with North Korean Christians in prayer. “Underground church believers are requesting lots of prayer, that they can endure this difficult time,” he says. “Please pray for them and our ministry.”
Here are some specific ways our field has asked you to pray:
Please pray strategically for North Korean Christians. Pray for their physical well-being, that God will provide for them and that He will supernaturally heal the sick.
Pray for protection for this underground church, so that the evil one cannot attack them.
Pray for their spiritual well-being. Pray that God will grow their faith so that they can persevere.