North Korean Refugee Retreat, Part Five: Rebecca Today

Continued from yesterday's blog post.

This summer, a refugee woman named Rachel from Rebecca’s church came to our retreat. The retreat was held a few towns away from their home and was reachable by bus. Rachel’s husband was away at work and she was not able to tell him before she left. She expected him back a couple weeks after the retreat.

On the last night of the retreat, our US Staff reported hearing a commotion near the entrance of the facility that the retreat was being held at about 2 a.m. They thought it was a new tenant.

The next morning our staff awoke to the news that Rachel’s husband had come for her. He brought two other men armed with sticks and pipes and he was looking for Pastor Kang. This revealed a deep insecurity the men in Rebecca’s region have about losing their wives.

The Chinese police in Rebecca’s region gives more freedom to North Korean refugees. Though they feel the threat of repatriation, this is not an imminent threat. This is because the level of trafficking that has happened in this region. There are tens of thousands of North Korean refugees who live there. Our sources on the ground tell us that, if the police round up these refugees en masse, the people would revolt.

This gives the women in the area some wiggle room when it comes to personal freedoms. But there is a flip side to this. When an outside group like Crossing Borders comes in, we too have to tread lightly. As sensitive as the villagers are to police activity that may take their wives away, they are equally as sensitive to outside groups encouraging these women to leave China.

We have been careful in our dealings with these people not to offer relocation as an option for them yet. We want to gain the trust of all the people so that, when we do mention this, it would not be perceived as a threat but as a benefit.

This fall a group of women in Rebecca’s village fled for Southeast Asia through the Underground Railroad without telling their husbands. Crossing Borders did not encourage or arrange this. Only one of the women who fled was from Rebecca’s church. But this didn’t matter to some of the men who lost their wives.

They blamed Rebecca and beat her mercilessly. When we visited her after this had happened, she didn’t speak of it. It was only after we left her village that we were informed by another refugee who she is in communication with outside her village.

When we contacted her later, she said that the matter is resolved and that she is no longer in danger. Her church continues to meet. Pastor Kang continues to make visits unharmed. The matter, it seems, is solved for the time being.

Newton’s third law is this: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Crossing Borders does not seek to upend communities. We make sure to tread lightly and to make change slowly. But sometimes change comes so quickly and unexpectedly that it elicits a reaction.

In circumstances such as this, we take the example of Jesus who was infinitely tough and unrelenting in his love yet infinitely gracious and merciful. Rebecca has come to understand this all too well.

We will continue to stand by Rebecca and the women in her village. We will redouble our efforts to minister to the men in her village and pray for those who attacked her. We will try to make their lives better and enact change slowly.

What we will not do is back down in showing Jesus’ love to those who need it the most.