In an interview with Fox News, Choi Kwanghyuk said he had never heard of underground churches until he managed to flee North Korea and its brutal dictator Kim Jung-un.
After his escape, Choi was granted asylum in the US in 2013 and now lives in Los Angeles.
While in North Korea, Choi was a member of the country’s underground church. Though on paper, North Korea says religion is legal in the country, in reality the only god they are allowed to worship is its president Kim Jung-un.
Choi who lived in North Korea’s cold North Hamgyon province told Fox News there were nine members in their church and they were very reluctant to share their faith for fear of being found out because it would result in imprisonment and probably death.
Choi added that they had one Bible that they shared between them and they often held church services in a hole that they had dug in the ground as a storage place for kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage that is considered a national food in North Korea. It was even used in winter.
He told Fox News that they whispered any hymns that they sung to avoid being heard.
However, the authorities finally caught up with Choi. He was arrested, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured for his faith.
It was only after he found out that they were planning to send him to one of Kim Jung-un’s notorious death camps that Choi decided to try escaping.
A former guard of Camp 22, perhaps North Korea’s most notorious prison, stated that people are forced into slave labour on borderline starvation rations.
The guard who had managed to defect said that Camp 22 crams 100 into a room. The guards regularly beat the detainees for simple infractions as not bowing fast enough. They also repeatedly rape the women.
Torture is part of life in these camps, with many prisoners displaying outward signs such as gouged out eyes and scars.
Some of the favourite forms of torture included ‘pigeon torture’ where the prisoner’s hands are chained to the wall two feet off the ground and the person is forced to sit in this crouched positions for hours. Others are stuck in tanks of frigid water up to their nose and forced to stand on their tip toes to avoid drowning for as long as 24 hours.
The crimes that lead to such torture include simply sharing your faith with other Koreans or even just knowing a religious person — both considered acts of treason.
After escaping jail, Choi made his way to China and from there to the US. Today he works to expose Kim Jung-un’s brutality.
Choi describes the life of North Korean Christians as a “life of Hell.” One Christian organization that secretly works with North Korea’s underground church estimates there are 300,000 believers in that country.
The Apostle Peter wrote:
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; (1 Peter 4:12 NASV)
It is a bit odd that Peter described the trials that believers were experiencing during that time as “fiery.” But there may have been a reason for his usage of the word.
Most Bible scholars believe Peter wrote this letter sometime between 60 AD and 65 AD. The Emperor of Rome was Nero who ruled between 54 AD to 68 AD. He was a brutal dictator who even murdered his mother in 59 AD.
The ancient Roman senator and historian Tacitus wrote that many believed the great fire of 64 AD that destroyed a huge section of Rome was purposefully started by Nero. While Tacitus only reported it as a rumour other writers were more adamant accusing Nero of setting the fire to rid the city of its old buildings so he could modernize Rome and build his Golden House.
But the fire also destroyed the mansions of Rome’s political élite. With rumours circulating that Nero had ordered men to set the fire, Tacitus says the emperor tried to deflect the blame by accusing the Christians of starting it.
This resulted in a horrific persecution of believers. Tacitus wrote that Christians were “being thrown to the beasts, crucified, and being burned alive.”
When Peter wrote his first letter, he may have heard the stories coming out of Rome how Nero was having Christians dipped in wax or oil, tied to tall poles then lit on fire while still alive to provide lighting for Nero’s palace parties.
Was Peter referring to this brutal torture and death when he cited the “fiery” trials?
The ancient church historian Eusebius reported that Nero (or one of his henchmen) had the Apostle Paul beheaded in 67 AD suggesting he was caught up in this wave of persecution that followed the burning of Rome as well.