By Timothy Cho (pseudonym used); North Korean refugee
Despite the ongoing North Korean food crisis, citizens are being told to “eat less food”. As we approach the end of 2021, some countries are slowly recovering from the impact of the coronavirus – but not North Korea. This country remains completely cut off from the outside world, and North Koreans face starvation. My question is, how will my brothers and sisters survive?
The nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, recently said that people ‘must eat less food until the country re-opens its borders with China in 2025’ – a shocking request when so many people in North Korea already go hungry every day. According to the UN, at least 10 million people, or 40 per cent of the total population, are in need of urgent food aid.
And Kim Jong-un can’t blame the food crisis on the pandemic – many North Koreans were going hungry long before the pandemic began. A 2017 UN report found that 40 per cent of the population were undernourished.
Farm production is often poor in North Korea due to flooding, heavy rains, drought, and particularly poor agricultural supplies and equipment. Of the little food that North Korea’s national farms are able to produce, 70 per cent goes directly to the military, leaving millions of ordinary people to try to survive on whatever is left.
The COVID-19 crisis has only made a bad situation worse. Tractors, fertilizers, pesticides, and other materials are no longer affordable, with the closed borders sending prices spiraling, making food production even more difficult than usual. Supplies of food from outside of North Korea, whether officially imported or smuggled in to be sold on the black market, have also been largely blocked with the COVID-19 border closures.
But this food crisis would be entirely avoidable if the regime diverted even a fraction of what it spends on nuclear weapons to feeding the North Korean people.
How long will the people have to suffer?
This is my frequent question in my prayers – ‘How long will this darkness have to cover North Korea, Father?’ I have seen the death of my people in front of my eyes, even since I was a child. There is ongoing isolation, starvation, darkness, oppression and persecution. And yet the North Korean authorities keep on saying, ‘Tighten your belts and follow our dear leaders.’
Why has all this suffering continued in this country for over 70 years?
But there is one thing I have personally experienced. Because of the ‘suffering’ and ‘darkness’ that I have gone through myself, my heart has been able to rely on God, holding on to Him as my hope.
On one occasion, when I was in the darkest, coldest and scariest prison cell in China, I didn’t lose my strength, because my hope was in the name of God. This is the faith described in Hebrews 11:1 – ‘confidence in what we hope for and certainty about what we don’t see’. I didn’t know then what would happen to me next, but I put my hope in God.
Then when I was going through intense trauma, nightmares and flashbacks, again, it was in the name of our Heavenly Father that I was able to overcome the pain and tears, and see the light of the dawn the next day.
There is strength and hope in the name of our Father, and our hearts are united as we stand together to pray and provide support for those in vulnerable circumstances, our persecuted brothers and sisters in North Korea and other countries across the world.
North Korea’s humanitarian situation has been a grave concern since the 1990s, when millions of people starved in the terrible famine often called the ‘Arduous March’. The country is in danger of facing a similar crisis again. But I don’t lose hope for my people, because even if one faithful person remains in this country and will stand in the name of our Heavenly Father, I believe He will hear their prayers. And in fact, we know there are tens of thousands of secret believers in North Korea, calling on the name of the Lord.
Meanwhile, I urge my brothers and sisters in the rest of the world to take your different gifts according to the grace given to each of us, and use them as you can to serve God’s people. “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12: 6-8).
Your prayers and support mean that, through safe houses and networks in China, Open Doors is providing vital food aid for 60,000 North Koreans every year. I began this article by asking, ‘how will my brothers and sisters in North Korea survive?’ For those 60,000 souls, the answer is, they will survive because God will answer their prayers through people like you.
God is at work all the time, and He still keeps his promises. Our faith believes it, and our hope anticipates it and patiently waits for it.