(Images courtesy Open Doors )
North Korea (MNN/ODM) ― North Korea said Tuesday that it had conducted a new, more powerful underground nuclear test.
Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for Open Doors USA explains, "North Korea again defied world opinion and UN resolutions by conducting a third nuclear test. They threatened the United States directly, and they also are threatening to go even farther in the future."
It's the third test of a nuclear device since 2006, and the first under Kim Jong-un's leadership, raising fears of instability in Northeast Asia. It also drew condemnation from the United States, Japan, Europe, and ally, China.
Throwing the sanctions back in the United Nations Security Council's face, North Korea not only refused to shut down nuclear development, but also ignored the warnings of its close ally China not to proceed with a nuclear test.
The division could signal a more fractious relationship in the days ahead. China provides economic and investment help. However, Dykstra notes, "North Korea [Kim Jong-un] thinks that he is strong enough to go out on his own. I think maybe he's trying to consolidate power within his ranks. Unfortunately, how far does this go?"
There's no longer the illusion that this is a Disney-loving, amusement park leader. "Kim Jong-un has been in power for just over a year. We thought perhaps he would be a little more flexible," Dykstra explains. However, "He's ratcheting up the dialogue. North Korea is a threat."
The reclusive leader called the nuclear test an act of self-defense against "U.S. hostility" and threatened further, stronger steps if necessary.
Open Doors partners aren't fazed by this "new" face. Though not related to nuclear testing, believers in North Korea suggest that aggression against perceived enemies is likely to increase. According to Timothy (not his real name), a 24-year-old North Korean who was almost tortured to death because he was seen as a traitor after being arrested in China nine years ago, "The government is preoccupied with nuclear tests.
"They ignore all freedoms. The human rights level is 0%. Religions are not allowed. The leader of North Korea (Kim Jong-un) has to be worshipped as god, and this will not change unless the regime collapses."
Just a month ago, the Open Doors annual World Watch List slated the hermit communist country the worst persecutor of Christians in the world for the 11th straight year. It's an earned reputation.
North Korean refugees overwhelmingly believe North Korea should indeed be No. 1 on the World Watch List. They state that the complete lack of human rights, including freedom of religion, makes the situation in their country incomparable to any other.
Another refugee, Joo-Eun (not her real name), expresses the opinion of other North Korean refugees when she says, "There is no religious freedom whatsoever in North Korea. People are simply killed if they believe in Jesus. Kim Jong-un is god, and there cannot be any god besides him.
"Nowhere else in the world can you find a three generation dictatorship. Yes, there are church services in North Korea, but only when foreigners are present. The state calls up some locals to be present. There is no freedom of religion, speech, or press in North Korea. Since that's unlikely to change, I think North Korea will remain on the first position of the Open Doors World Watch List."
Dykstra says North Korea is in "a league of its own" when it comes to persecution of Christians. Because they're isolated, "They have to rely more on the Lord and on prayer. They're doing that. One underground Christian wrote, ‘No matter what circumstances we face, we stand firm in the mighty hands of God, and we will continue to march strongly toward the eternal kingdom.'"
Believers worship in secret, and gathering is only done in small numbers, with extreme caution. Overkill? Dykstra responds, "Only last month Open Doors learned of the deaths of two Christians, including one in a political prison camp. We believe that is only the tip of the iceberg. Research estimates there are as many as 70,000 Christians in the gulags out of an estimated 200,000 prisoners."
Open Doors lets them know they're not forgotten. "We are going alongside the Christians there. We are finding them. We're providing what they need and we're helping them on the border with China. We're supporting them, but it's very dangerous work."