Since its formation in 1948, atheistic North Korea has been ruled by one family. The current leader, 68-year-old Kim Jong Il, suffers from a long list of health issues and is believed to have had a stroke in 2008. His youngest son, 28-year-old Kim Jong-un, is likely to be his successor.
As the report notes, the likely succession is significant because it concerns a nuclear-armed regime that has been one of the world’s worst violators of human rights and one of the greatest threats to world peace.
Not to mention a huge threat to Christians living within its borders.
Most believers, estimated to be over 450,000 (as per the Center for the Study of Global Christianity), are part of the underground church. Recently, a 50-year-old North Korean Christian, Son Jong Nam, was tortured to death in a prison as he was caught with 20 Bibles and 10 cassette tapes of hymns, reported Associated Press in July 2010.
According to the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea, North Korea runs six large prison camps for political prisoners. Together, they hold an estimated 200,000 inmates—one in every 100 people in the country is in jail, most likely facing death—and are used as a key tool to suppress potential dissidents and tame famine-hit people by spreading a sense of fear. It is believed that many of these inmates were imprisoned for their faith in or preaching Christianity.
So, will a succession affect change?
The report says that, above all, the North Korean regime wants to maintain its control over the country, which requires it to balance the external threat and meet economic needs at home. Christians are seen as a Western-influenced threat to the government. The future of Christians depends on the compulsions the new regime will face to hold its grip on power.
For the succession to take place successfully, says Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the US-based Heritage Foundation and former official from the US intelligence, there must be no opposition to the leadership of the Kim family. And, that is likely. But, it is possible that an inexperienced Kim Jong-un will be challenged by members of the party’s elite. Also, a collapse of the regime cannot be ruled out.
However, if everything goes as planned in the succession, there will be little change in the regime’s policy and persecution and repression will carry on.
Continue to pray for North Korea's leaders, that the Holy Spirit would bring them to repentance and belief. Pray for a watershed moment in God's timing that will bring thorough change, freedom and complete transformation to the land. Pray for fellow brothers and sisters, for their emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
To read the full report, visit World Evangelical Alliance.