‘We Could Have Faced the Death Penalty’: Man Who Escaped North Korea Tells of Having to Keep Church ‘Secret’

A North Korean man who escaped the country after being arrested, and was granted asylum in the United States, is telling his story of how he had to keep a church he founded underground and secret, else he possibly be put to death.

“There were about nine people,” Choi Kwanghyuk told Fox News. “I couldn’t do mission work because we had to keep it secret that we had a church.”

“If that information had leaked,” he added, “we could have faced the death penalty.”

Sometimes, Kwanghyuk said, services were held in the mountains or by the river, or even literally underground.

“We’d meet in this rectangular hole and use [a] lantern to study the Bible,” he told the Christian Post. “Since we cannot sing out loud, we praised by humming the hymn.”

In 2008, Kwanghyuk was discovered by authorities, and arrested. He was interrogated about his faith by security department representatives while in prison, and tortured.

Just as he was about to be sent away to a labor camp, Kwanghyuk broke free.

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“I decided to escape because I thought that once they sent me to the other camp, they could eventually send me to the concentration camp or kill me,” he explained. “I was traveling back and forth between China and North Korea, but they kept searching for me, and I knew it could put my friends in danger too, so I left.”

Kwanghyuk applied for asylum in the United States while staying in China, and was granted refuge. He moved to Texas and has since resettled in California.

While Kwanghyuk cannot work due to the beatings that he suffered while incarcerated, he says that he wants to inform others about how Christians—and North Koreans in general—are treated by their government.

“First of all, every human must have the right to freedom,” he said. “There is no freedom in North Korea. By law, they have the freedom of religion and the freedom of the press, but the reality is very different.”

Kwanghyuk stated that because the government has such rigid control over its citizens, many do not know anything about Christianity.

“I would say one out of one hundred people might know about God,” he outlined. “If you get caught associating with religion, then DPRK government will send them to political camp or prison.”

Kwanghyuk says there is an “enormous difference” between living in North Korea and living in the U.S., which he described as being more like Heaven, while North Korea was more like Hell.

As previously reported, North Korea has appeared at the top of Open Door USA’s “World Watch List” for 15 years, being the “most dangerous place to live as a Christian.”

“In this totalitarian communist state, Christians are forced to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors and often, even their own spouses and children,” the 2017 report outlined. “Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation.”


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