Restore Life

North Korean Refugees: Food and Nostalgia

Some of the most reminiscent and nostalgic discussions we have had with North Korean refugees in our Restore Life program have been about food. Close your eyes for a moment and think about the food that best encapsulates your hometown. Whatever it is, a sandwich, a taco, a hot dog or maybe even a certain soup, how would you feel if you could never go home and eat it?

Many of us on staff, while in China, will talk for hours about the food we miss from back home. These discussions are often accompanied by distant looks in our eyes as we long for things like pizza, peanut butter or French fries.

North Korean refugees have the same conversations. However, unlike us, they have little hope to ever eat their favorite dishes again. North Korean refugees have an even deeper connection to their food because the famine made every morsel all the more precious.

Our missionaries recently took three North Korean refugee women out for dinner and they had one of these conversations. These women are usually shy and muted but the topic of food brought life to their faces.

These were some of things the North Korean refugees in our care missed:

“HeeKyung”: Salted Pollack Soup

“My family would sit together and eat this when it would snow so high that it reached above our knees. On those days I would eat fresh salted Pollack. The taste would shoot in my mouth. I wish I can taste it again.”

“AeHyun”: Potato Noodles and Pyongyang Style Nengmyun (buckwheat noodles with beef broth)

“The noodles are very clear and thin. It’s my favorite noodle.  You can have it in hot soup or mixed with spicy paste. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. And there is nothing compared to Pyongyang buckwheat noodles! I miss it so much.  The Chinese don’t have buckwheat noodles. Pyongyang noodles must be made with buckwheat. During the famine, we only dreamt about food, especially white rice. We left our homes for food. It’s sad.”

“OakSoon”: ‘Eun Eo’ Sweet Roasted Yellowfish

“Only in XX city people could eat it because there were many business people. They could afford to buy fish. Also, I miss corn noodles in hot soup.”

Please pray for these North Korean refugee women who long for more than a taste, but for their homes. They are foreigners in a strange land with a different language and unfamiliar foods. Please pray that their hunger might be filled by the only One who can satisfy.

Prayer for North Korean Refugees: Restoration Song

North Korean Refugee Sings a Song She Wrote from Crossing Borders on Vimeo.

This is not a song one would think that a North Korean refugee would write. It is especially unexpected of a woman who has been trafficked and physically abused, a woman who has spent time in a North Korean prison camp. However, after two years in the care of Crossing Borders, having received the gospel and been ministered to by the faithful missionaries on the field, “Ok-seo,” one of the North Korean refugees a part of Restore Life program shared this personally written song with us. Ok-seo has found hope in Christ through the underground church in China.

Ok-seo was well to do in North Korea. She didn’t suffer during the Great North Korean Famine of the 1990s during which an estimated 3 million people starved to death. But when her husband took her 10-year-old son with him to be with another woman, her life took a turn for the worse.

She began selling copper taken from electrical wiring on North Korea’s sputtering electrical grid. This is a grave crime in North Korea and when caught, she was sent to prison. Ok-seo, however, said that she had been lucky. If she had be caught stealing wires going to or from the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang, she would have been executed.

When Ok-seo got out of prison, her friend who was also in the copper trade, told her that she could make $500 a month in China in a tailoring factory. But when she crossed the border she immediately realized that something was very wrong. Ok-seo had been tricked. She had stepped into the waiting hands of a human trafficking ring. Ok-seo begged her captors to sell her to someone without physical defects. Many North Korean refugee women are sold to Chinese men with disabilities. They honored her request and sold Ok-seo to a Chinese farmer who had an immense amount of debt.

Her husband and his family physically and verbally abused Ok-seo to the point where she would get severe migraines. Desperate, she turned to a neighbor, a fellow North Korean refugee who was also trafficked. This woman brought her to church.

Ok-seo said that shortly after she started attending church, her migraines went away.

Outwardly, Ok-seo's situation as a North Korean refugee has not changed. She is still struggling to find the means to survive with her family. However, her outlook on life has transformed. Ok-seo was recently given a journal from our missionaries and wrote the lyrics to the song she she shared after North Korean women in her village were sent back to North Korea. The tune is a of a traditional North Korean song.

In fear, Ok-seo has found hope. Please pray for her and the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees like her - that they would find restoration and strength in God.

*Note: Ok-seo is a part of our Refugee Rescue Fund where you can sponsor women like her in Restore Life and receive regular updates on them.