for persecuted people across the border in Communist-run North Korea, organizers said.
Around 00.01 hours UTC a special website was officially launched (www.prayfornorthkorea.org) to coincide with the vigil, known as the Wailing Prayer Meeting, and described as the "largest international gathering" of Korean and non-Korean pastors worldwide to pray for North Korean freedom.
"The main purpose of the prayer vigil is to pray for the people of North Korea, who through no fault of their own, suffer from the repressive North Korean regime," said the main organizer, the Korean Church Coalition, a non-partisan and non-denominational Christian organization.
It said the Wailing Prayer Meeting in South Korea’s capital would also aim to "bring awareness [about] the types of brutality, torture, slavery, as well as other non-humane conditions [North Koreans are experiencing] as part of their daily lives."
About 1,000 non-Korean pastors and other international officials and speakers were also expected to participate in the event at the Youngnak Presbyterian Church in Seoul.
The Wailing Prayer Meeting is a prelude of the Global Week of Prayer for North Korea which will run from June 19 through June 25, this year.
Several Christian rights groups aim to focus the worldwide Church’s attention "on the need to pray for the desperate plight" of North Korea’s 22 million people, explained Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
"North Korea has long been shrouded in secrecy, masking it from the interest and prayers of the outside world," added CSW’s International Advocate, Elizabeth Batha, who pioneered the Global Week of Prayer and is also one of the speakers during the Wailing Prayer Meeting.
"In recent years information on the terrible oppression, statewide enforced idolatry and utterly brutal persecution of the Christians has become available to all," she told BosNewsLife. "The level of brutality and the suppression of the gospel should make this a key prayer focus for the worldwide Church. The Global Week of Prayer for North Korea is a call for all of us to recognize and respond to the seriousness of this situation."
Pastor Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the largest church in the world, has endorsed the call to prayer. "We have been praying fervently for North Korea for many decades now, specifically praying for the peaceful unification of the two Koreas," he said in a statement.
"We have many young pastors preparing for the ministry who are planning to enter North Korea when this door is open. It would be deeply appreciated if [Christians around the world] would join us in prayer for North Korea [as] God is not willing that any should perish without Him."
Christians are also encouraged to be actively involved in advocacy and aiding North Koreans, including those who flee to neighboring China where they encounter "further suffering" at the hands of authorities, CSW said. There have been reports that North Korean Christians face exploitation, bride-selling or, if caught, repatriation to apparently harsh treatment in North Korea, including torture and execution.
GOD’S WORD "BANNED"
"We believe North Korea deserves to be high on the worldwide Church’s agenda and that, as awareness rises, believers all over the world will feel moved to pray against this idolatry," stressed Batha. "Even the Word of God is banned and most Christians have been killed or sent to the gulag."
She noted that before the Communist regime was installed, the North was a "centre of revival" and Pyongyang was known as the Jerusalem of the East. "Ninety-nine years ago North Korea was a centre for revival and many of the mega churches in South Korea that are looked to as examples of church growth around the world were planted by those fleeing from North Korea," she claimed.
"Now is the time to raise up a concert of prayer that will see that blessing flood back into North Korea." Batha and other human rights watchers have no illusions that the current North Korean leadership will listen. Most Christians fled to the South during the Korean War, or were martyred, church experts say.
Thousands of Christians and dissidents are believed to be in prisons and labor camps across the country, where Kim Il Sung, the man recruited in 1945 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to found the Communist North Korean state, stamped out Christianity and the traditional Buddhism and Shamanism.
"They will never be allowed out of the camps, alive or dead, and are worked to death in brutal conditions and terrible deprivation.
Christians suffer especially cruel treatment in these death camps as they are under ongoing pressure to renounce their faith," CSW told BosNewsLife.
Kim Il Sung allegedly also ordered that three generations of a Christian’s family must be eliminated, and many Christians have been publicly executed, rights watchers and refugees have said.
The ‘Great Leader’ installed instead of Christianity an ideology resembling a state religion, which rejects any outside influence and which critics say promotes hatred and distrust of outsiders. That ideology preaching self-reliance, is known as ‘Juche’, of which the late Kim is the central figure – so much so that the North Korean calendar begins with the year of his birth in 1912.
After Kim Il-sung died in 1994 his son, Kim Jong-il, continued his policies towards Christians as General-Secretary of the Korean Workers Party. North Korea ranks number one on the Christian rights group Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries where persecution of Christians is the worst. Analysts say Western governments are reluctant to put pressure on North Korea, at a time when negotiations are continuing on the future of its controversial nuclear weapons program.
The government of North Korea has denied the existence of prison camps, some of which reportedly can hold up to 50,000 prisoners. North Korea also rejects charges of human-rights abuses and has accused the United States and its allies of using human rights as a "political tool in a campaign to overthrow" the government in Pyongyang.
Despite reported persecution, human rights groups claim that a groups of believers have managed to hold on to their faith. CSW said that North Koreans are "immensely open to the Gospel." It claimed that those who flee the country "often accept Jesus with open hearts. They have been trained to such a level of obedience in North Korea that they can quickly become devoted disciples, even ready to face death for their faith." (With BosNewsLife News Center, BosNewsLife Research and reports from North and South Korea).