Our first pictures of Sungsik and Jongtae are outside of an old, dilapidated brick building. Both brothers are wearing their orphanage’s uniforms - a light blue and white polo with each silver, plastic button snapped in place. Their clothes, however, once new, are smudged and smeared with wear and tear. Black and brown stains are scattered across their bellies and sleeves.
The two boys stand differently. Sungsik, twelve-years-old in the photo and the elder of the two, stands hunched over, his shoulders shrugged as if he’s standing for the picture in the cold. He looks as if he is about to be struck, scolded, yelled at. His face is unsure, uncertain. Sungsik is uncomfortable.
Jongtae, though a year younger than his older brother, stands in stark contrast. His expression is sternly nonchalant, almost angry. His back is straight and his shoulders stiff. His arms are snapped to his sides like a soldier at roll call. Jongtae’s gaze is distant, beyond the camera. It seems that he could care no less about his picture being taken.
In these photos, Sungsik and Jongtae are about to be adopted into Crossing Borders’ group home.
We don’t know Sungsik or Jongtae’s real birthdays. Their parents never bothered to register their information with us or the government. Our best estimates have been sometime in January of 2003 and 2004. The boys are not sure either. According to the boys, they were raised by an uncle when infants and left to a caring but poor orphanage by the time our missionaries came to find them. No relatives or family have ever come looking for either Sungsik or Jongtae.
Neither of the boys remember their father’s face. He was a Chinese man arrested for illegally selling opioids. He is currently still serving his sentence and has not been heard from. Sungsik and Jongtae’s mother, a North Korean refugee who was sold to their father, was also arrested. The consequence of her crime was more severe. She was sent back to North Korea, where it is impossible to learn of her whereabouts or condition. It is possible that neither Sungsik or Jongtae will ever even know if their mother was allowed to live when she returned to her country.
Through the years, our staff have learned a great deal about Sungsik and Jongtae.
Sungsik is quiet, shy, but intelligent and attentive. He is smaller than his younger brother but fiercely caring and loving. He is patient, but often lacks the boldness to reprimand or correct his sibling. He is pale and thin, loves to play volleyball and competes in his middle school’s intramural competitions.
We discovered that Jongtae had a urinary tract infection when he first arrived at our group home. It must have been an incredibly painful experience for him, as our staff only learned of this sickness when he urinated blood. Thanks to a volunteer doctor sent from the United States by Crossing Borders and several visits to local medical facilities, Jongtae was healed and is now very healthy.
Jongtae, much darker than his older brother, is the stronger and louder of the two. He can often be moody and is easily upset. When asked about his life or likes and dislikes, his answer is most often a scornful but playful “Wǒ bù zhīdào!” or “I don’t know!” Jongtae can be bright and silly, but abrasive. He, too, enjoys playing sports with his brother and listening to music.
Sungsik is now 16-years-old, his brother Jongtae is 15. The two of them are taller, healthy and still growing. In their group home, they are fed, attend school, and spend time with other boys their age. The boys bicker often, poke and prod at one another and argue. But together, they know that the only family they have is one another.
We want to continue to provide Sungsik and Jongtae a home. Our organization exists to serve children like them as they fight to become educated, mature young men. With compassion and care, we want to help Sungsik and Jongtae sustain their family.
Crossing Borders works to support many children like Sungsik and Jongtae. Many half-North Korean children are still lost and alone, without anyone to help them. Please help us to reach more.