North Korea has entered a period of uncertainty following the death of its leader Kim Jong-il at the weekend.
The 69-year-old dictator died unexpectedly of a heart attack, prompting concerns for the stability of the region in the transition to new leadership under his son, Kim Jong-un.
Between 1994 and his death on Saturday, Kim Jong-il led a regime with one of the worst human rights records in the world.
There is no religious freedom in the country and anyone caught practising Christianity faces a lengthy prison sentence or even execution, according to Christian rights groups.
President of Open Doors USA, Dr Carl Moeller, said Kim’s death marked a “significant day in North Korean history”.
“Though this brutal dictator, who was responsible for so many atrocities, has died, the future is still unknown,” he said.
Observers are split over whether the human rights situation will get better or worse under Kim Jong-un. In the face of uncertainty, Mr Moeller called on Christians to pray for the country and the estimated 50,000 Christians being held in North Korean prison camps.
“We simply do not know the future of North Korea, but God does,” he said.
“This is why it is vital that Christians around the world pray for North Korea during this transitional time. Pray especially for the brave Christians inside North Korea. They are fearful that they might face even more suffering.”
The communist regime has been underpinned by a personality cult that revolved around Kim Jong-il and, before him, his father Kim Il-sung.
Worshipping anyone other than the “Supreme Leader” is considered treason. The human rights situation is so dire that North Korea has topped Open Doors’ World Watch List of the worst nations for persecution of Christians for the last nine years.
Open Doors’ main contact for Christians inside North Korea, named only as Simon for security reasons, said it is “very unlikely” that Kim’s death will usher in any policy changes.
He said North Korea has stepped up its attempts to uncover religious activities and increased the number of house raids and spies being trained to infiltrate religious and human rights networks.
“Christians fear what Kim Jong-Un is capable of doing. He will do anything to keep hold of power,” said Simon.
With Kim’s inner circle making it difficult for opponents, Simon said “something special” would be needed to topple the regime.
The World Evangelical Alliance echoed Open Doors’ concerns, saying it was impossible to predict the consequences of Kim Jong-il’s death for North Korea.
It is looking to the international community to do “all in its power” to resume the Six Party talks and efforts to end the state of war that still technically exists between North and South Korea.
In a statement, the WEA called upon the new North Korean leadership to adopt international human rights standards.
It has asked Christians worldwide to pray for peace on the Korean peninsula.
“Many South Korean Christians have earnestly prayed for peace and Korean reunification for decades. May this new era see the beginnings of some answers to their prayers,” the WEA said.
OMF International is asking Christians to pray for Kim Jong-un to be open to outside assistance and for more opportunities for Christian professionals to enter and serve the nation.
“If we truly desire to see a revival in the land of North Korea, we need to see a widening prayer movement focusing on this unreached people group,” it said.