Chinese government

Twice a North Korean Refugee

“We never had enough firewood in the winter,” Yae Rin, a North Korean refugee in Crossing Borders' care told us. “My dad and I would go very early in the morning to the mountain and cut down a pine tree to bring home. We would have been in such big trouble if we were caught. When there was enough snow on the ground, we could take a big tree and slide it down the mountain.” Yae Rin is a young woman. She is less than five-feet-tall. She has a bright disposition and innocence about her. It’s hard to tell that she is a North Korean refugee in hiding in China. It is shocking to learn of the hardship she endured growing up in North Korea. Yae Rin crossed the border into China with nothing and subsequently had to live for years with the fear of repatriation by the Chinese government.

In North Korea, Yae Rin and her family shared a house with four other families and struggled to find enough work to eat on a regular basis. “I had to get out, so I planned to cross the border into China. I went to my friend’s house to prepare to leave but somehow my father found out and stopped me. We cried together and I went back home.” But a few days later, Yae Rin crossed the river into China. She hasn’t seen her family since she escaped.

Soon after crossing over into China, Yae Rin was found by a local Christian who took her to an underground church for safety. Countless other North Korean refugee women are trafficked into China from North Korea or found by wrongdoers and sold as wives or prostitutes. Experts estimate the number of North Korean refugees to be in the hundreds-of-thousands, those who have crossed illegally into China since the Great North Korean of the 1990s.

Yae Rin found work in China and Crossing Borders was able to help her with rent and obtain an ID so she could apply for jobs. She would find work at different restaurants, often working 7 days a week. The field staff at Crossing Borders would meet her regularly during this time for encouragement and prayer. Our missionary couple shared many hours during Yae Rin’s time off talking about her past as well as hopes for her future.

After a few years of struggle and weariness, Yae Rin felt ready to go to South Korea. The trip along the Modern Day Underground Railroad to freedom can take weeks. In addition, South Korea requires each North Korean refugee to take several months of reeducation courses before entering mainstream society. Yae Rin made the trip safely and took all the required coursework in South Korea.

This past year, our field staff who shared time caring for Yae Rin in China were able to meet her just outside a subway station soon after she got her own apartment in Seoul. They hugged and wept for a long time out on the street. They went to her new home and prayed to thank God and cried together again.

Yae Rin, now 26 and a North Korean refugee twice over, through the dangers of China and now in the modern day rush of South Korea, shared one of her first thoughts landing at Incheon airport in South Korea. “I’m finally in Korea. I don’t have to worry about hiding.”

Then while on the bus crossing the long bridge into the city in mid-winter she thought, “I wish my family could be with me now.”

Adjusting to a new life provides many challenges for North Korean refugees but Yae Rin shares that she is happy and now she finally has the freedom to fulfill some of her hopes and dreams. Today, Yae Rin is studying hard and has plans to become a nurse. She may never escape the memories of her past but maybe she feels it’s now her turn to do some healing.

Prayer for North Korean Orphans: Hardly a Chance

Please pray with us as we serve North Korean orphans while navigating through the difficulties and frustrations of Chinese government's bureaucracy. We have written in the past about how urgent the situation is with the half-North Korean, half-Chinese population - the North Korean orphans, stateless children - we serve in China. While China has made some concessions to accommodate this population, their system of bribes and corruption has made it almost impossible for most children to pull themselves out of poverty.

In China a child does not have access to education, health care or any government service unless he has legal identification. China now allows stateless, North Korean orphans to legally register and receive an ID, but, as we will explain, laws are not straightforward in China.

For a stateless child to receive legal identification, he must pass through three official Chinese offices:

First, the child must get an official document to prove their father is indeed a Chinese citizen. This can be obtained in most hospitals and in rare cases at an office of record keeping.

Second, the North Korean orphan must go to the police bureau and obtain proof that his mother was taken by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea. The child can also make the argument that his mother has escaped to South Korea but in our experience it is much easier to pass through the police requirement if the mother was actually sent back to North Korea.

Let’s be clear about what this means. In order for a stateless child to obtain legal status, he must prove that his mother was sent back to North Korea where she will be put in a gulag and potentially executed. Earlier this year Yonhap News, a South Korean wire service, reported that four such people were publicly executed.

The last and most difficult hurdle comes at the end, after the child has gone through the first two steps. A stateless child must take his case to the Family Registration Department where, if the child can show proof of paternal citizenship and maternal arrest, he should be granted a legal ID. But this is not how things work in China. A bribe of 3,000 to 5,000 RMB ($475 to $793 at today’s exchange rate) is necessary to complete this step. There is no receipt for this fee and there is no official record of it.

For there to be any substantial improvements in the lives of North Korean orphans, change must come at a systemic level. And with China’s one-party, pseudo-totalitarian government, we are not holding our breath. This is why we firmly believe that outside intervention is necessary for these children to have a shot.

Please pray for us as we continue to navigate the confusing, ever-changing bureaucratic muddle of China on behalf of our North Korean orphans.

Prayer for North Korean Refugees: Missing Missionaries in China

As we pray for North Korean refugees and those who work on the field, please pray for two missing missionaries who have recently disappeared in Northeast China. One of the missionaries is a US citizen. The US State Department has been notified and is conducting the necessary research. There isn’t very much information that we can share publicly but we can say that there has been a string of disappearances of missionaries in the region. The missionaries who have disappeared are not associated with Crossing Borders, but are part of a network of Christian missionaries in Northeast China who minister in the region. It is too early to say who is responsible for these disappearances.

China is a strange combination of dictatorship and democracy it is neither and it is both. If you’ve traveled there, you no doubt have experienced both freedom and the watchful eye of the government - cameras on every street corner, the censored Internet sites and quiet whispers of the locals as you walk by.

If you stay long enough, you might get lulled into thinking that nobody cares what you are doing until something like this happens. Events such as these serve as a chilling reminder of the power the Chinese government possesses over its guests and the evident danger of missionary work. This is something through which we pray for our own missionaries as they serve North Korean refugees with caution and secrecy.

Please pray for the two missionaries to return, for their safety and for gospel to continue to spread in this region without fear. We pray that God would continue His work, despite earthly authorities, and that the gospel would reach many North Korean refugees living in hiding. For His glory!