On a random bus ride through one of China’s largest cities last year, a pastor gets on to start his day. The pastor, an ethnic Korean who is a Chinese citizen, hasn’t heard the Korean language spoken in public in years but this day he did. He went to speak with the two women who were quietly talking to one another and learns that they are North Korean refugees. Over the course of the ride, he gains these women’s trust and they tell him they are from North Korea but live in rural China, away from the North Korean border, and that there are many, many more like them.
The pastor started making regular visits in 2014 to this area to see if they need help and to share the gospel with them. Early this year, he contacted Crossing Borders. We decided to investigate, despite the fact that we have not ventured out of Northeast China since our operations started in 2003. What we found was an area where North Korean refugees experience much less government scrutiny but still struggle with issues related to poverty.
This new area is an interesting endeavor for us because we have never worked where North Korean refugees live and work in such freedom.
Our first priority in working with North Korean refugees in China is to find a place of safety for them. Without safety, people cannot move forward with their lives. They cannot heal. They cannot grow.
As we mentioned in our previous post, almost all of the ingredients for success were in place for our first Black Mushroom Project loan except the most important: safety.
So if we remove the very powerful element of fear, we have the freedom to operate under a new set of rules and expectations for our refugees. This is what we have found for this area where police are not trained to spot North Koreans and the government is not active in pursuing these people.
Most of the North Korean refugees we’ve worked with in the past have lived under stifling fear that, if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, they will be caught, hauled off to North Korea where they will face time in the country’s infamous prison system and face execution.
This is why we skipped the important first step of providing monthly support for the refugees in this area and went directly to helping them with medical care and providing ways to help them make a living.
This area is virtually untouched by Western influence. There is no church. People are Buddhist or believe in other indigenous superstitions. We made contact with this area through the pastor who had been visiting since 2014. We decided that the best thing we can do in the region is to help this pastor start a church, which will be completely self-funded.
Through this church, we can mount efforts to improve the quality of life for the refugees and their children in the area. It gives us an efficient contact point through which we can show the compassion of Christ to these people.
The North Korean refugee crisis started in the 1990s and continues to affect North Koreans and their children in the region. Over time the severity and nature of the issue has changed. As Crossing Borders continues to help this population, we have been able to change with it, providing a new kind of help to North Korean refugees in different kinds of situations. We will keep you posted on the developments of this new and exciting site. In the meantime, we ask for your prayers.