Tumen River

Prayer for North Korean Refugees: Effects of Hiding

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

Staff Notes: North Korean Refugees, Memories, Home

The following post was written by Crossing Borders volunteer staff: Years before I started volunteering with Crossing Borders to serve North Korean refugees and orphans, I remember going on a brief visit to Northeast China with my grandfather. We stopped at a North Korean restaurant staffed by beautiful young North Korean waitresses. The North Korean government owns several restaurants throughout Asia, which are fully staffed and managed by approved North Korean patriots under the employ of their government. My grandfather, a North Korean refugee, who was born in North Korea and still had siblings living there, asked the women about their lives and their families. I knew he took pity on their situations. Although they were living in relative freedom in China they were, essentially, still enslaved to the North Korean government, working long hours for little pay. Yet with frozen smiles and identical expressions, each professed their undying devotion to their homeland and their “Eternal Father” Kim Il Sung. They each wore a small red Kim Il Sung pin on their uniforms and spoke no ill of their leader.

A few years later, I found myself watching a documentary entitled State of Mind, which followed the lives of two young North Korean gymnasts as they prepared with single-minded devotion for "The Mass Games”, a performance held in honor of North Korea's leader. The gymnasts placed all their efforts and hopes into the chance that they might perform for Kim Jong Il. Their months of labor and practice resulted in a flawless performance. But on the day of the Games, the Supreme Commander failed to show. , The disappointment and pain in their eyes was evident.

Many of the North Korean refugees assisted by Crossing Borders long to return to their homes in North Korea. Though they have been informed that their leaders Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un are not gods, that North Korea is not paradise on earth, their home still beckons them from a distance. Memories and shared histories are still too powerful to forget. This is perhaps why my own grandfather remains drawn to any news about his former home, why he continues to travel along the border between China and North Korea, hoping to catch glimpses of any North Koreans on the other side.

On one of our visits, while riding a tourist ferry along the Tumen River, we happened to see some North Korean children playing in the water. They were close enough that we could hear their laughter. My grandfather reached out his arms and wistfully remarked that he wished there was something he could give them. Only half-joking, he thought of throwing them small bags of rice or money. But soon our small tour boat turned around and we were headed back, moving further and further away from the shores of North Korea.