For a meager price, Mrs. Jo was sold twice in China, first as a farmhand. She was worked so mercilessly that her back went out, making her completely useless to her owners. Then she was sold again.
Mrs. Jo’s life was riddled with oppression but, by her strength of will and faith, refused to be defined by it. Despite being sold twice and being stripped of all her rights, she proved herself as an integral part of our work over the course of the years that we have known her. Mrs. Jo died in March. Her life proved the God-given worth of people from any background or status.
Mrs. Jo fled North Korea immediately following the Great North Korean Famine, which lasted between 1995 and 1998. She watched her husband and three children starve to death. And as the youngest of Mrs. Jo’s boys lay starving and weak in her arms, he asked his mother for one bowl of rice to eat. Mrs. Jo told him that she would sell the shirt off her back and trade it for a final meal for him. He smiled, touched the button on her shirt and died.
Mrs. Jo had no one else.
With nothing left and at the brink of death herself, Mrs. Jo found the strength to walk to the border that separated North Korea and China. She was promised work in China but, like so many others, Mrs. Jo fell victim to the snare of human trafficking. She was subdued and prepped for sale. Mrs. Jo was older and was deemed undesirable to Chinese men looking for young brides. So for a discounted price, she was sold to a pig farmer. But her body gave way after a year on this farm. She was sold to an old Chinese man, but for the rest of her days, Mrs. Jo’s back was painfully, permanently deformed.
Mrs. Jo met Crossing Borders missionaries in China in 2012. They counseled her, brought her into an underground community with other North Korean refugees. It transformed her life.
Due to her back and ailing health, Mrs. Jo could not travel. Nonetheless, she began an outreach to other North Korean women in Crossing Borders’ network via long-distance phone calls in 2015. She became a mother to them, nurturing them with hope and faith. Her testimony blessed so many, both North Korean refugees and Crossing Borders staff. She did so much with so little and was joyful in the face of suffering.
Mrs. Jo’s body was cremated and her bones were buried. No death certificate was signed for her in China. She was never acknowledged as a person there. But we believe that she is somewhere better. We believe that she is in glory, her face is bright, shining as the sun. All of the wrongs done to her are made right and all of the tears she shed are wiped away.
Mrs. Jo was a prisoner with no ID and no personal rights. Her body was broken beyond repair. She was poor. She was barely able to walk. Her body was ravaged by harsh starvation, labor and illness. Her children died in a senseless famine. But the effect of the lives she touched will go on long past her life here on earth.