Caught Between Conflicts: Missionaries and Refugees


The work of Crossing Borders is fraught with risk. Though our efforts have continued uninterrupted for 16 years, we’ve operated with the knowledge that at any moment, the Chinese government could effectively halt our operations. But despite the inherent pressures of our mission field, we find ourselves full of hope.

On January 4th, closely following the 40th anniversary of bilateral Chinese-American relations, the US State Department issued an advisory placing China on status of “increased caution” for travelling Americans. The advisory warned US citizens that Chinese officials may arrest or detain any Americans visiting China in the country without being charged with a crime. China is using these arrests “to compel U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations, to lure individuals back to China from abroad, and to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.”

The release of the advisory is the result of the ongoing tensions between the Chinese and American governments. The government travel advisory for the 2.3 million Americans who visit China each year is likely driven by ongoing trade negotiations with China, as well as the recent detention of three Canadian nationals. It is both a politically and economically motivated warning issued by a American officials closely watching Chinese diplomacy. The two nations’ combative rhetoric has been expanding steadily.

Caught in the crossfire are Crossing Borders’ American missionaries who travel into China to serve North Korean refugees and their children. If arrested or detained, they would be casualties of a much larger conflict that has little to do with Crossing Borders’ work. But Crossing Borders has long been aware of the difficulties of working in China, especially as an American organization. Both of our founding members have experienced danger to their lives. Members of our Chinese field staff have reported being under the watchful eye of authorities, sitting through accusatory interrogations or receiving threats of arrest. As the American and Chinese governments take turns placing a greater strain upon their relationship overseas, US missionaries grow concerned.

Christianity, has been strongly rejected and harshly enforced by Chinese authorities for the past year. Our missionaries have recently reported that religious holidays such as Christmas have been banned in certain major cities. Heightened frustration between the American and Chinese governments have only given our staff more reason to worry about arrest, detainment or expulsion in China. With right cause, we feel powerless and caught in the middle of a much bigger conflict.

Over 200,000 North Korean refugees who are in hiding throughout China experience much greater pressures. Many refugees - who have experienced terror and abuse at the hands of authorities - are aware of how little control they have over their circumstances. Hungry and impoverished, they could never control the scale of historic and international tensions that have driven them into desperate circumstances. Many live in fear.

But Crossing Borders’ message for both the field staff we employ and the North Korean people in our care is one of hope. We do not share our hopes despite being at the mercy of greater powers, but because of such mercies. We do not believe our difficult circumstances are signs of despair. We trust in that we have been given a mission to share kindness, love, and peace despite the tribulation or persecution we may experience. Our calling proves truer and stronger in trials and is our anchor in all circumstances.

In safety and danger please stand with us in prayer. Whatever trials lay ahead in the coming year, Crossing Borders hopes to forge onward holding to our testimonies of deep compassion and great endurance.