It was at a chance meeting late in 2014 where Rebecca, a North Korean refugee met Pastor Kang, a Crossing Borders staff member. She was on a bus going through the Chinese countryside with a fellow refugee. As she and her friend spoke to each other in their native tongue, Pastor Kang took notice.
Pastor Kang thought it was strange these women were speaking in Korean in the region they were in. Korean is commonly used in regions in China adjacent to North Korea. They were far away from the border.
Pastor Kang struck a conversation with them in Korean. As they spoke, they trusted him enough to tell them they were North Korean refugees. They told him that there were many North Korean refugee women in the region, all were sold to poor, Chinese farmers.
Our worker exchanged contact information with Rebecca with a promise that he would soon visit them.
Rebecca is a humble, unassuming North Korean refugee whose life changed at this simple meeting. Though she was introduced to Christianity recently, she has become steadfast in her faith. Her story is wrenching and illustrates both the opportunities and challenges North Korean refugees face in China.
In 2015 Pastor Kang started visiting these women every month. The small village in China far away from the North Korean border somehow became a hub for the sale of thousands of North Korean women. These women lived near each other but hardly communicated. They lived in isolation until we started a church there later that year.
North Korean refugees who have been sold often live in layers of misery. They have no human rights, which means that, if they are being abused by their husbands or in-laws, they have no recourse. A North Korean refugee can be murdered in China with no legal ramifications. On top of this, North Korean refugees who have been sold are completely at the mercy of their husbands. If he is kind, they are lucky. If he is unkind, it makes their lives infinitely more difficult.
Despite the fact that these women are married to Chinese citizens, this doesn’t change their legal status. This drives them to live alone and not talk to many people. The more people who know your circumstances, the more likely it is for someone to slip up or turn you into the police.
But this all changed the day we started a church in Rebecca’s village. Pastor Kang’s monthly visits started much more than a mere worship service, it started a community. Women who were afraid of speaking to one another began to share their pain, their grief. They began to look after each other’s needs. They met at Rebecca’s house with her husband’s permission.
Rebecca became the leader of this group. Our plan was to start multiple groups in this area and reach more people. In order to do this, we began training people like Rebecca. This is why it is so important that we host our annual retreat for the refugees in this area. As we train them to be healthy leaders who stand on Biblical principles, it benefits the whole community. It reaches more refugees and more women and children benefit.
By the end of 2015, these groups of women were vibrant, healthy and growing. But not everyone was happy.
The conclusion to this story will be in tomorrow's blog post.