Refugee Retreat

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.

North Korean Refugee Retreat, Part Four: Rebecca

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.

North Korean Refugee Retreat, Part Three: Anna

Some North Korean refugees did not know they were going to be sold before crossing into China. Others, like Anna, did.

Some North Korean refugees leave because they were starving. Others, like Anna, left because they were fleeing the government.

Anna was able to share her story with other refugees at our retreat and know she was not alone in her experiences. One of our missionaries said after it was over, “It was a beautiful, meaningful time, full of God’s grace.”

She told our missionaries that in 2002 and Anna had three daughters ages four to eleven. Her oldest was selling produce on the train. The North Korean government allows people to sell a maximum of 50 kilograms of produce per day. The safety officer weighed Anna’s daughter’s produce and discovered that she was over the limit.

This child committed a crime and she was beaten severely for it. She was scheduled for trial but everyone knew what the verdict would be. So Anna took her daughters and fled North Korea. She knew that she would be sold but it was far better than sending her child to the world’s most brutal prison system.

When the family got to China, things did not go well. Anna’s oldest became separated from her family. Despite a frantic search, Anna could not find her. It was especially painful for her because she herself grew up without her parents in North Korea.

“I still don’t know where she is but I believe God knows,” she told us this summer at our retreat.

Anna is trying her best to move forward. She lives with her husband, a poor farmer who purchased her and her two remaining daughters. Anna’s husband is supportive of her going to church.

Last year we were able to give audio players with Christian music to our refugees. She ties this player around her neck while she works. She says the songs help her work more joyfully.