Inside North Korea; An Amazing Television Documentary

Eye-opening Documentary on North Korean Life Provides Lessons for Christians

How a much-adored 'God-King' enslaves a sincere but ignorant people...

A quite amazing television programme is currently 'doing the rounds' on cable television. I viewed it on the National Geographic Channel, in fact I have now watched it twice within about eight months. If you get the chance to view it, drop everything else you were thinking of doing and just sit and watch it!

The government building

The programme is called Explorer: Inside North Korea and - despite the unpromising title - there is great food for thought for Christians in this production. Lisa Ling gives viewers a rare glimpse of North Korea and its absolute dictator Kim Jong II, who is known as the "Dear Leader" and who rules the country as a god-king. The programme follows the work of Dr. Ruit, the famed Nepalese eye surgeon. Dr. Ruit’s outstanding goal is to offer eye surgery to patients in poor countries who have gone blind because of cataracts; these cataracts would be considered eminently operable in the West but many poor countries cannot afford such operations on a large scale. The good doctor entered North Korea with the plan to perform over 1,000 such eye operations in just a few days. North Korea often refuses permission for such humanitarian missions because of not wanting to give the impression that its people lack anything but - amazingly - they did give Dr. Ruit and his team full permission to carry out these operations.

American TV reporter Lisa Ling (of helpful oriental appearance) planned to go into the secretive North Korean state undercover by posing as part of the medical team.

The North Koreans only gave permission for filming at the eye hospital, and there are some astonishing scenes of that in the final part of the programme - more on that later in this article - but through the use of hidden cameras (highly risky indeed!) much else is filmed including an interview with a typical family of this communist country. Official permission was granted for this interview - but not for the hidden camera! This hour-long film also covers the story of the only North Korean border guard to have ever escaped across the 'demilitarised zone' which lies between the two Korean states. It is considered far easier to escape into China but this man needed to get out quickly. Unfortunately his friend was electrocuted by live wire in the same attempt. The escapee's family have almost certainly been imprisoned (or worse) as retribution for their son's escape and this is normal policy in a land of sinister concentration camps, camps in which to enter is almost certainly never to leave. It is no secret that North Korean camp guards are taught never to regard captives as human. And this is the state which now apparently has nuclear weapons!

typical North Korean anti-western propaganda
The North Korean government preaches a continual propaganda message of hatred towards foreigners but especially westerners.

So, before returning to the eye operations scenario, who is this charismatic Korean communist leader who is plainly worshipped as a god? Well, Kim Jong-il (also sometimes written as Kim Jong Il) is believed to have been born in 1941 in the Soviet Union, although official biographies state his birth date and place as 1942, Baekdu Mountain, "Japanese Korea." He is absolute leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He is Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, and General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (the ruling party since 1948). He succeeded his father Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea, who died in 1994, and commands the 5th largest standing army in the world.

Kim - like many such despotic leaders of the past and present - lives in luxury amidst the numerous malnourished of his land. There are some incredible contradictions in this land; for one, how an officially atheistic state can give religious reverence to a god-king. We should remind ourselves that Christians have been executed in North Korea in the recent past and hatred of Americans has been successfully indoctrinated in the population. In fact, hatred of all foreigners - not just Americans - has been official policy for at least 45 years. The population are taught that they themselves are the only people of quality in the entire world. This has been taught for so long that the people seem to believe it without question.

Dr Sanduk Ruit
Dr Sanduk Ruit of Nepal, the famed eye surgeon.

North Korea has also been going through one of the most hushed-up famines of all time. As NK Missions reports,

'An estimated 2-5 million people (out of 22 million) have died in a devastating famine in North Korea since it began in the mid-1990s. Perhaps the greatest human catastrophe of our generation has claimed more lives than the famines in Ethiopia and Somalia combined, yet many are unaware of this ongoing disaster. In an Investigative Report conducted a few years ago, a group of short-term missionaries surveyed the weightiness of the situation and found these morbid estimates strikingly true. They reported:

"North Korean refugees we talked to said that at the height of the famine in 1997, there weren't enough coffins for all the dead. Trucks drove through the villages every morning to pick up scores of dead bodies on the streets. Perhaps most disturbing, every refugee we talked to had stories of people eating others in their villages.

The North Korean government hasn't released official numbers, but the estimated number of citizens who have died of starvation since 1995 is staggering. Research from independent groups places the death toll at 3 million...' (source:

Religious Ecstasy Directed Toward the "Great Leader"

statue of the Great Leader

But now to the final part of this film. Viewers are shown the results when bandaged eyes are uncovered after the multiple cataract operations. There is joy and pandemonium in the huge hall and everybody makes for the huge pictures of Kim and his father displayed prominently on the wall loudly giving them thanks for receiving their sight! Apparently nobody attempted to thank Dr. Rui or his team but most rushed to express adoration toward their 'god-king' and 'Great Leader.' Many of these people also held out, or raised, their arms in a plain gesture of religious adoration. Quite a few fell on their knees before the massive portraits apparently feeling unworthy to even lift their eyes towards their god-king. One old lady (we are told by translation) yells, "Oh great leader now you have given me sight I am going to work so much harder for you in the salt mine!"

This very plain example of idol-worship was, for me, very revealing to discover in an officially atheistic nation. The ordinary people of North Korea people have no knowledge of the true God, or of Jesus Christ because this knowledge has been deliberately concealed from them as an act of state policy - yet an innate need to express spiritual devotion was very plain to observe in the eye hospital.

As G.K Chesterton once so famously noted,

'If people stop believing in God, the danger is not that they will believe in nothing but that they will believe in almost anything!'

Mao made to appear as a Moses-like figure
The communists were never slow to borrow imagery from religion. Here a young Mao is made to appear as a Moses-like figure. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and Mao is depicted in a strikingly similar manner!

The people of North Korea bow in adoration before a far lesser 'god' - yet I was impressed by their loyal devotion, even where the people are denied so much. Is there a lesson here for affluent westerners who have so much yet appear to continously grumble and complain?

This all made me realise how privileged one is to live in a time and place where one can learn of Almighty God and the Lord Jesus Christ through the pages of the Holy Bible. Christians do not have to be deceived by false leaders, even so-called 'god-kings.'

Glory and praise indeed to the Highest God who is truly the King - not of a tiny backward nation which has been fed lies for over half a century - but of all the world!

'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.' (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Robin A. Brace, March 2008.