Michelle's Time for Healing

 Michelle (left) after meeting with a Crossing Borders volunteer in China.

Michelle (left) after meeting with a Crossing Borders volunteer in China.

“Michelle’s” face lit up when we asked about her hometown, Musan, North Korea. She described the fresh air, the pink azalea flowers that grew along the mountainside. Everything else about her past that she described to us was misery. We are hoping that, as a new part of our network, things can turn around for her.

Michelle was one of the hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees to flee her country because of the famine that killed an estimated 3 million people in the mid 1990s. She fled north into China with her mother in 1998 but awaiting her and so many others was a different form of misery.

North Korean women were trafficked en masse when they flooded into China in the wake of the famine. They were given no human rights and if caught, they were immediately sent back to a North Korean gulag. So they couldn’t call the police and tell them they were being trafficked. They were stuck.

Michelle and her mother were sold to different men in different cities.

The family who purchased Michelle was cruel. They treated her like a slave and made her work their farm all day and all night. As a result, she has severe back pain and an injured hip, which prevents her from working. We are supporting her with a $50 per month stipend.

Sick of her situation and weary from her injuries, Michelle fled her family but was caught again by a human trafficker and sold to another man, with whom she lives today. Her current husband is good to her, she told us. He allowed Michelle to reunite with her mother and they live together today.

In addition to Michelle’s monthly stipend, entering into our network means that she will be connected to a community of North Korean refugees. She will not be alone in her struggles and she will have people who she can relate to and share about her past trauma. She will have job training available to her as well so that she can pursue a different job that will not require pressure on her back. She will also have access to doctors and therapists that Crossing Borders sends into China to give her quality health care.

Post Trump-Kim Summit: What Now?

 Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shaking hands at the June summit in Singapore.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shaking hands at the June summit in Singapore.

The Trump-Kim summit came with much fanfare and anticipation. The meeting, which took place in Singapore, was the first time leaders from the two countries met in person. After several hours of discussions, the two nations emerged with a joint agreement by which the two nations agreed to work towards denuclearization. The US has agreed to temporarily stop military drills and North Korea has committed to recovering the remains of fallen soldiers from the Korean War.

This was a good start for the two countries, which just a year ago were threatening the region with nuclear annihilation. But as they say, the devil is in the details. Though a commitment to peace and stability is nice, the two countries must work through a number of contentious issues in order to reach peace and stability. Let’s look at where the negotiations are at now and what these negotiations mean to North Korean refugees.

Negotiating Bumps

After a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month, North Korea said that the US had a “unilateral gangster-like demand for denuclearization.”

It seems that both sides are currently at a virtual standstill in negotiations. The US wants North Korea to denuclearize before they agree to anything. But North Korea wants security assurances before they denuclearize.

This does not mean that the negotiations will fail. We have already seen some surprise twists and turns in the lead up to the June summit and we expect to see some more in the coming weeks and months.

North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal

North Korea showed promising signs toward denuclearization leading into the June summit. They stopped all missile tests and destroyed a nuclear facility.

But recent reports indicate that, despite North Korea’s pledge to work toward denuclearization, the country is quietly working to confuse the international community about the size and scope of their nuclear arsenal. If North Korea is able to successfully deceive weapons inspectors, there is no way for the world to know if the nation will ever truly denuclearize.

Experts fear that, if North Korea does not make any concrete commitments, time will pass and so too will the precious window to make a deal.

North Korean Refugees

You would think that North Korean refugees around the world would not want to go back to their homeland. This is the homeland that has betrayed them, according to their accounts. This is the homeland that many refugees associate with suffering and sorrow.

But most do want to go back if the current regime falls. Like most refugees, North Koreans identify strongly with the people and culture of their country. They have escaped to freedom and truth and many want the same for their countrymen.

The refugees in our network have expressed guarded excitement at the prospect of the talks between the US and North Korea. They feel that change can occur but that change would be extremely difficult to achieve.

We are living in a time where that change is possible, however remote. We know that ultimately, our hope is not in people but in God. We will continue to pray for change in North Korea.

Fifteen Year Anniversary: An Interview with Mike Kim

- This post was written by Dan Chung, Executive Director of Crossing Borders. 

We had been meeting for a couple of years without a name in the early 2000s to work toward a target we didn’t quite see. It was a group of college friends who had a passion to help North Koreans. Mike Kim (author of the book, “Escaping North Korea” and co-founder of Crossing Borders) and I sat at a bookstore on a cold Chicago morning in 2003 tossing names around. Nothing stuck.

Then, as luck would have it, one of us realized where we were meeting. Yes, it was a Borders bookstore. The word ‘borders’ was and is an essential part of our work. North Korean refugees were crossing a border into China for help and we were crossing many other borders to help. Crossing Borders. It felt right.

Five years ago on our 10-year anniversary, this memory did not seem so far away. Today it does. First of all, Borders Bookstores is now a thing of the past. Secondly, after getting married, having children and being a part of too many stories to recount, 2003 does seem like a long time ago.

One January 1, 2018, Crossing Borders celebrated our 15th anniversary. Over the years we have helped about 1,000 North Korean refugees and orphans with vital resources and protections. As a part of the original team, I can say without hesitation that we are still pursuing this work with the same vitality and excitement as when we first started. The only difference is that we’re a lot wiser now.

I wish I could peel back the curtain on all of it and share with you what an incredible ride it has been. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to. For now, I want to share a conversation I had with Mike Kim as we reminisced about the past 15 years.

We thank God for all the memories and for all the people who have helped in big and small ways. You are always near our hearts.