Last week we shared about North Korean refugee women who reject their families in China after experiencing life in South Korea. Though we are seeing more and more women abandon their families, a majority of these women still have an overwhelming desire to be reunited with them. Here is one of their stories: “Saenah” came to China as a North Korean refugee in 2001 and was sold to her husband shortly thereafter. She gave birth to twin girls whom she loved. But she and her family suffered in a cycle of poverty and debt that they could not escape.
In 2006 Saenah and her husband left the girls at a Crossing Borders orphanage to find work in Shanghai. But they could not find any meaningful work.
Desperate, the couple went to a fortuneteller who, according to Saenah, didn’t have any answers for them. Out of options, they turned to the church and began to pray night and day for an answer.
At the church they met someone who told Saenah that she could go to a South Korean consulate and find freedom in South Korea. So that’s what they did.
The husband and wife went to a consulate in a nearby town where Saenah and a group of refugees would try to sneak in. Saenah’s husband would watch from a nearby café.
Chinese guards are placed strategically around the South Korean consulate in China, keeping a lookout for any North Korean refugees who might attempt entry. The group of North Korean refugees with Saenah passed through the outside gates of the South Korean consulate while exterior guards made their rounds. Watching from the café, Saenah’s husband thought she was safe. But there was a guard inside the facility.
As a last ditch resort, the women had brought hot chili powder to throw in the eyes of the guards. When they opened the door to the consulate, a guard was waiting there for them. Panicked, the others scattered and the guard quickly cornered Saenah.
In desperation, Saenah reached into her pocket and threw a fistful of chili powder at the guard's eyes. While he was distracted, she made it into the consulate.
Saenah believed that she was almost free. What she did not know was that the Chinese government had a tape of her throwing chili at the guard. This made it difficult for her to gain exit out of China. Saenah waited for three years. People came and left but she, alone, was stuck in the South Korean consulate.
When the time came, Saenah was allowed to board a plane to South Korea. The first thing she did was call her husband, who had given up hope of ever seeing his wife again.
Saenah sent for her husband first, then came and got her twin girls from Crossing Borders. They are living happily in South Korea now.
Family is a complicated topic when it comes to North Korean refugee women who were sold into forced marriages. Some husbands treat their wives well. Others treat them like livestock. Most are somewhere in between.
We do not make decisions for women in these marriages on whether they should flee or stay in China. But we do make sure that the North Korean refugees in our care make sound decisions and that they know the risks of escaping to South Korea.
As we pray this week for these families of North Korean refugees and their children, let us pray for families like Saenah’s who have suffered so much. Our hope is that somehow, they can stay together and live happily with one another in Christ.