If not for a North Korean government training video, the testimony of Cha Deoksun’s life would never have been known. Produced to train state security agents how to identify and silence those who promote religion inside North Korea, the film denigrates anyone who practices religion. According to the film, Deoksun received Christ in China and then returned to North Korea to share her faith.
Incredibly, the propaganda film gives many details about the life of this courageous Christian. It states that during North Korea’s “Great Famine” in the mid-1990s, when an estimated 2.5 million people died, Deoksun was a strong revolutionary whose faith in the government had wavered. After visiting a woman in the northwest to ask for help, she illegally crossed the border into China in search of her uncle. But instead of finding her uncle, who had died, Deoksun found the Seotap Church, where she heard the gospel for the first time. The video says she became a “fanatical believer” who was inspired to return to North Korea and form an underground network of Christians inside the country.
When she returned to North Korea, Deoksun apparently turned herself in to authorities for crossing the border illegally. The video says that authorities were “lenient” and released her, but instead of praising the government, she praised the Lord. Because of her poverty, the government did not restrict her movement within the country; she could travel freely between towns in North Korea to earn money for herself. As she traveled, she shared the gospel and gave money to the poor and those suffering. In addition, she discovered the descendants of several prominent Christians who gathered every Sunday to worship, pray, sing hymns and study God’s Word.
Though she was faithful, compassionate and generous, the video describes her as a “spy seeking to recruit other spies” — a description of evangelists commonly used in North Korean propaganda. Eventually, according to the video, “a good and awakened North Korean citizen” reported her to authorities.
It is unclear how Deoksun died, but it is possible that she was executed. Deoksun served the Lord without recognition, just as many North Korean Christians do today despite their government’s attempts to eradicate Christianity.