"Joon" was a North Korean orphan in the care of Crossing Borders. From the stories of our staff and volunteers who met her on the field in China, their lasting impressions speak of her bright smile and energy. They also tell of her surprisingly small stature and the shock that many on the field had when they first met her, learning that she was a young woman of 16 years, not a six-year-old child. Stunted the growth is one of the lasting effects of malnutrition during the Great North Korean Famine. The national impact of starvation and suffering resulted in a population of undersized people who are, even today, noticeably smaller in stature than their counterparts in South Korea. This is an equally, if not more pronounced, attribute of the North Korean orphans and refugees supported by Crossing Borders.
When Joon was 15-years-old, her mother abandoned her and her father in North Korea. Where she was headed, where she is now, remains unknown. Following her mother's departure, Joon lived alone with her chronically ill and alcoholic father who physically abused her.
Joon and her father had crossed over the border from North Korea into China not long after her mother left. Joon's father was captured as an illegal North Korean refugee and died in a Chinese prison, possibly from alcohol poisoning.
All North Korean refugee are considered illegal trespassers and denied human rights in China. The only country that can compare in such abuses with China is Joon’s home, North Korea.
As a young North Korean orphan, a girl without the protection of the law or caretaker, Joon was incredibly vulnerable. She was not only in danger from forces within Chinese law, but outside of the law as well. Human trafficking is prevalent in Northeast China due to a massive gender imbalance produced by the One-Child Policy. Many North Korean refugee women are captured and sold to Chinese men who purchase illegal wives. It was in this dire situation that Crossing Borders was able to step in and place Joon into the home of a local caretaker and staff member.
Our US staff were able to speak with Joon at our missionary’s home after sharing lunch with her. She reminisced about the her home across the border. She told us stories of harsh North Korean winters, times when she endured the abuse of her father. She shared that, even in the cold snow, she collected grass for a living. She was paid less than a quarter per day.
Joon remembered springtime in North Korea as well. Warmth would return to the rural region where Joon lived. The snow would melt to reveal the cold, frozen bodies of those who had died of starvation. Her school days were spent working for her schoolteacher, who made students collect various food scraps during the day, using them as free labor.
It was during our US staff's visit that our missionaries realized that Joon's safety and welfare had been compromised under our caretaker, and that she was in potential danger of being trafficked. Though Crossing Borders could not guarantee that she would be perfectly safe with her caretaker and immediately moved her to live and hide with our field missionaries. Our staff and missionaries spoke with Joon, and it was decided that she would be safest in South Korea. We began developing a plan and considering the steps necessary.
In the following months Joon was secretly and steadily moved from one city to another under the care of our missionaries, evading Chinese authorities from checkpoint to checkpoint. In 2009 we snuck her into the Korean cultural program with hopes she would soon be granted exit out of China and entrance into South Korea. This did not happen.
Our communication with her dropped into complete darkness. For two years, it was unclear if Joon was somehow caught by traffickers or sold as an illegal, 18-year-old bride to a poor Chinese farmer. At worst, we wondered if Joon was even alive.
We later learned that the Korean program into which Joon had been placed imposed a extreme restrictions on Joon. She was not allowed to leave the building, was denied any communication or information on the progress of her movement to South Korea. Joon felt like a prisoner, trapped and desperate. Refusing to cooperate she demanded to be released, but was forced to stay. It was only when Joon began to harm herself to gain their attention that the officials a part of the cultural program agree to let her go.
Joon took matters into her own hands and found a broker to escort her out of China into Southeast Asia. She traveled with a group of five North Korean refugees through the Modern Day Underground Railroad in Laos and made it into Thailand to seek refugee status. She was admitted into South Korea in 2012.
Joon spent three months in Hanawon, a re-education program designed to help North Koreans enter modern society. She received a funds to help her begin building a life for the next year, along with a small apartment furnished with basic supplies that would last her about three months.
Our staff is now in touch with Joon, and has met with her in South Korea. She is finally free.
Joon's story reminds us that even as Crossing Borders works to provide the utmost care and safety for every North Korean orphan and refugee in our care, only God's sovereign and powerful protection can make way to transform their lives. As we work carefully to mitigate risks and keep our refugees from harm, we understand that danger lies all around. All the wisdom in this world cannot perfectly evade the unforeseen circumstances, abuses of power and constant presence of watchful and oppressive authorities. Only God's guidance and care can allow our work to prevail.
We are thankful to Christ for His compassion and love for Joon and for the North Korean orphan. We thank him also for our field missionaries who risk their lives in China to share His message of hope. Please continue to pray with us for Joon and the future of Crossing Borders as we work to bring His compassion to others like her in their pursuit to find salvation.