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Almost Peace – North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal and It’s Cost on Refugees

North Korea tested yet another nuclear weapon last week. What alarms experts isn’t that they did it but the frequency at which these tests are happening. The country detonated its fourth nuclear weapon in January of this year. Before this they tested nuclear weapons in 2006, 2009 and 2013. Multiple reports have said that these blasts are getting stronger.

We published an article in our annual report this spring that we think addresses the human toll North Korea’s nuclear program has taken, especially on the refugees. Below is an abridged version of the article and here is a timeline of North Korea’s nuclear project as it appeared in our annual report. For a free copy of our annual report, email us your home address: contact@crossingbordersnk.org.

Hope for diplomatic relations with North Korea took a heavy hit in January, 2016 as North Korea’s nuclear ambitions stirred unease and fear in the international community. The country claimed to have detonated a powerful hydrogen bomb, though experts outside the country dispute this. They later successfully launched a satellite into space, which many analysts said was really a test of the country’s ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on a similar rocket.

North Korea’s nuclear program has been a decades-long project. It has been the country’s most important initiative and has survived sanctions, a famine and the world’s unequivocal condemnation. But Crossing Borders remains hopeful despite the fact that the nuclear program has often been at the expense of the nation’s people. The government continues to pursue a nuclear agenda while everyday North Koreans are still caught in a desperate struggle to feed themselves and their families.

Economic progress is difficult when a country is hungry. People can’t work at full strength when their stomachs are empty. While the North Korean economy has floundered for the past 20 years, it has spent $2.8 to 3.2 billion on its nuclear program, according to the Chosun Ilbo. These funds could have purchased about 10 million metric tons of grain, enough to feed the country for two years.

But the program’s cost cannot be measured in grain alone. Experts say it should also be measured in missed opportunities for their economy. North Korea’s nuclear program has a hidden opportunity cost: continued sanctions that block the nation’s participation in the global economy. North Korea’s neighbor, South Korea, could potentially be a powerful trading partner if sanctions based on nuclear disarmament are lifted.

“Inter-Korean trade would grow rapidly from the present amount of roughly $2 billion per year to approximately $11 to $16 billion per year by 2020,” wrote Scott Snyder for the Council on Foreign Relations (2013).

The North Korean people and their leaders continue to miss potential opportunities to earn valuable income and stimulate their economy. This leaves the people hungry, forcing them to continue seeking food and resources outside their country.

As refugees continue to flow out of North Korea, the world looks in, but often in the wrong place. World leaders have fixed their gaze on the country’s nuclear arsenal and military power. Overlooked and unseen are the tens of millions of people who are suffering.

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But despite these overwhelming circumstances, we see hope. Amidst the thousands of dark hours we’ve spent with refugees as they recount the difficulties they have faced in North Korea and in China, we have seen countless smiles. It is hard to remember what these people have gone through while spending time with them. We have seen what God’s love does for their souls.

They are full of hope. They are full of laughter. If you talk to any of our staff who has spent time with these people, they will tell you of the joy that exudes out of these individuals who have seen the compassion of Christ.

We have seen that the love of God has the power to heal the broken and hurt. This is something that no weapon can destroy.

A new way to help North Korean refugees

The fate of thousands of North Korean refugees rests on our ability to expose new people to our work. The more people know about what we do, the more people will act on behalf of North Korean refugees in China. And when more and more people act, the more and more North Korean refugees and their children we can help in Northeast China. Our goals for the rest of the year are simple.Think 20/30/40. We want to:

Visit 20 churches. Get 30 people from each of these churches to donate $40 per month.

Already we have scheduled several church visits to get the word out about the plight of the North Korean refugee in China. When the information gets out, we are confident that the ripple effects will be immense.

Each dollar will:

Improve quality of life through poverty alleviation, education and micro-loans

Foster spiritual healing through community building and Biblical counseling

Win freedom along the Modern Day Underground Railroad

We’ve seen the powerful effects when churches and communities engage in our work. Not only is it a blessing to the people we help, it’s a blessing to them.

If you are interested in inviting a Crossing Borders representative to your church, fellowship or community group, please email us at contact@crossingbordersnk.org.

North Korean Refugees' Instilled Reverence

A few years ago, we met a North Korean refugee whose house caught fire while home with his family in North Korea. He was able to save his wife and daughter, he said. But after the fire was extinguished he was arrested and imprisoned. Every North Korean household is given a picture of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Each citizen must hang these pictures in a prominent place in their home and make sure they are dusted and straightened regularly. These photos are of utmost importance in the lives of North Koreans.

This man was arrested because he went into his home to save his wife and daughter, not the pictures. He was recently released from several years in prison and escaped to China as a North Korean refugee.

People often ask us how the North Korean regime is able to retain power. A western government that instilled such draconian measures, they say, would surely incite a revolt. But the North Korean regime holds power because it instills an unshakeable fear in the hearts and minds of its citizens. But times are changing and the vice grip the regime once had on the hearts and minds of its people is eroding.

North Korea's control on the minds of its citizens is an issue we have to deal with for many of the North Korean refugees we've met, especially when we started working with them in 2003. North Korean refugees would cower in fear when we would first meet them. They were taught that Americans are baby-eating monsters.

But things are changing. As information is creeping into North Korea from the outside world, the regime is losing its “reverence capital.” The result of this isn’t a callousness to authority and power, but quite the opposite, the people of North Korea have been left with a deep longing to honor a higher authority.

North Korean refugees are coming to China savvy of the situation they are in. They know about their government. They know about the prosperity of the outside world. But with this knowledge they are also seeking something else essential to their lives.

Melanie Kirkpatrick’s book, “Escape From North Korea” describes the conversion rates of North Korean refugees. Many people insist that North Koreans are converting in China because they are “rice Christians.” Meaning, they convert to receive aid. If this was true, we would not be seeing the robust Christian population of North Korean defectors in South Korea, most of whom claim that they converted in China, according to Kirkpatrick.

Crossing Borders believes the only thing that can satisfy the longing in a person's heart is God. We do not force this belief on anyone but many do come to believe what we do.

A version of this piece was originally posted in 2013.