A member of our American staff recalls his experience not too many years ago, standing over the Tumen River on a broken bridge. Not far from where he stood, across the river, was North Korea. Our staff member remembers seeing a few guard houses, mountains stripped of their vegetation. The river had frozen solid in the Siberian cold, and in the snow were the footprints of North Korean refugees who had fled across the ice. Once a North Korean refugee flees into China, their lives depend on how quickly they are able to blend in. Steps must be taken to avoid being noticed. Clothes must quickly be changed in the dark. They must clean themselves of any marks of travel or fatigue. Two things have a potential tip their hand: their height and their language. They must always be mindful of who is watching. Fear and suspicion begin to settle into their every waking moment as their lives depend on how cautious they are in everything they do.
Our staff was able to visit a small village in the Chinese countryside where the police had raided and captured much of the North Korean refugee population. One boy, now an orphan, had witnessed his mother being tackled by the police and dragged away.
One of the few remaining refugees approached our missionaries, dropped to her knees and begged. She pleaded, “Can you please help me get out of here?”
She couldn’t muster up any other words. She was shaking and visibly terrified.
North Korean refugees are aware that they have been watched for almost their whole lives in their homeland. Relatives and even their own children may be asked to inform on them as a test of their loyalty. They have heard of spies who will report any "unpatriotic activities". But in China, where refugees cannot grow close to anyone, cannot distinguish generous help from malevolent deception, cannot begin to even consider trust as a valid option, North Korean refugees are trapped in a state of unending instability and paranoia.
Some North Korean refugees in China have lived with this looming shadow of fear for more than a decade. For them, the anxiety and dread has seeped deep into their lives and have taken their toll.
One North Korean refugee who made it to South Korea after more than five years in China told us that, the day she got her legal ID, she slept with it in her palm and cried herself to sleep.
Please pray for those who are hiding this week. It is no way to live. Please help us as we minister to them, comfort them, and pray for their healing in the security and protection of Christ.
"Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.'"
- Isaiah 35:3-4