Director's Notes: Usefulness of Suffering

The following post was written by Crossing Borders' Executive Director, Dan Chung and was originally posted in 2014. The story has been updated to reflect the changes in the life of the North Korean orphan he references.  

At the age of eight, I began a dark stretch in my life. I started to have night terrors. Every night through my early teens, I would be caught in a terrible dream where I was running from some terrifying, unseen force. This dream would manifest itself into reality. Each night I would get out of bed screaming and run around my house and sometimes my neighborhood.

Some mornings I would awake to find myself sleeping on the curb.

As a result I was afraid of sleep and would do anything to delay the inevitable. And to this day, I have trouble falling asleep, even as I lay exhausted in bed.

But in some intangible way, this small bit of suffering has laid the foundations for my life as an adult. The pain, which was deep and seemingly unending, drives my work as executive director of Crossing Borders today. As I’ve sat and listened to a countless number of resilient North Korean refugees tell me their stories since 2003, my heart still breaks. And I know that it is in part because of the small quantum of pain I experienced as a child.

Today half-North Korean orphans in Northeast China experience a much greater pain. I saw it in the eyes of "Haneul," a North Korean orphan we helped. Haneul and her family have told us her story. 

Standing out on the streets, a wandering North Korean orphan was crying and looking for anyone to help her. Haneul was six-years-old.

Her North Korean mother fled China through the Underground Railroad and cut off all communication to the people she knew in China, even her daughter and her husband, who purchased her in 2001. Haneul's father left for South Korea to find his wife and to find work.

He would send money back to a friend in China, who was taking care of Haneul. But after a while the money stopped and he was never heard from again. Some say he died. Some say he moved to a different country. No one knows for sure.

Shortly after her father’s money stopped, Haneul was abandoned in the middle of a busy city by her guardians.

She wandered around and somehow found her uncle, a poor Chinese man. He took his niece in. He has a half-North Korean daughter, who is a little younger than Haneul. He too had a wife who he purchased. She left him after their daughter was born. He is poor. He has worked odd jobs here and there but nothing permanent. And he has no idea how to take care of these two girls.

In early 2014, when I visited Haneul at her uncle’s house, She was living in squalor. The soot from the coal that locals burn underground to heat their homes was caked her skin. She was shivering and had a runny nose. There were pans with crusted ramen noodles on the floor of their small living space.

Some experts say that North Korean orphans in China number in the tens-of-thousands. Though many have family who care for them, most live in abject poverty. Some wander the streets looking through bins for trash they can sell. Most long for their mothers who have either taken the Underground Railroad and have found greener pastures or have been captured by the Chinese police, sent back to North Korea and have never been heard from again. All North Korean orphans suffer in some way, shape or form at a young age.

David Brooks of the New York Times published an article titled “What Suffering Does.” It is an interesting reminder about how suffering can be used to bring meaning and purpose in a person’s life.

He says that suffering “means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.”

Though the North Korean orphans in our care have suffered much in their lives, we have hope that they can use this pain as a vehicle to do good. The best way we see this happening is through a vibrant relationship with Christ.

Haneul is on the path to redeeming her experiences. In 2015 she was reunited with her mother in South Korea. She goes to school and is very happy, according to our missionaries who visited her in 2016. 

As we pray for the innumerable North Korean orphans lost in China, let us remember the importance of suffering, that the deeper it is, the more capacity people have to redeem it. It is our hope that these children can take the deep reservoir of their experiences and unleash it back into the world to transform it.

Prayer for North Korean Orphans: Strength to Forgive

“Sung Me" is a North Korean orphan whose North Korean mother was sold to her Chinese father in China’s expansive sex trade. Illegal trafficking in China was rampant after the Great Famine of the 1990s, as refugees fled out of North Korea. Her mother left her and was captured by several Chinese men, locked up, abused, and murdered. Sung Me does not remember anything about her mother. She was later left to her aunt who mistreated her and did not want to care for her anymore. That’s when Crossing Borders stepped in. We recently found out that she was sexually abused while she was staying with her aunt.

Recently, Crossing Borders hosted an English Camp and Vacation Bible School for North Korean orphans like Sung Me. What resulted from this meeting between six American teachers and 25 North Korean orphans was nothing short of amazing.

On one night of the camp, a staff member shared the story of the Good Samaritan and God’s mandate to forgive those who have wronged us. We asked those who have a hard time forgiving to stand up so we could pray for them. Sung Me stood up. She cried. She asked God for strength to forgive.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus lays out a new way for people to practice the Golden Rule. The story not only challenges us to love our neighbors but to love our enemies. The story teaches to heap on lavish love and reconciliation to those who we may consider mortal enemies.

We’re not sure who Sung Me is having a hard time forgiving: her mother who she doesn’t remember, her aunt who didn’t love her, or perhaps those who were cruel and abused her in the past. What we do know is that forgiveness is the first step to recovery.

Sung Me is living in one of our group homes for North Korean orphans. She does well in school and is active. She loves sports and helping out at home. When we visited recently, she was one of the first to get us fruit and drinks. We are not sure what the future will hold for her but we are committed to being there every step of the way.

Please pray for Sung Me and the many North Korean orphans like her who have suffered much in their lives. We believe that the only way to healing for her and others like her is the forgiveness offered in the Gospel - to receive it and to practice it.

Prayer for North Korean Orphans: Two New Children

Pictured: The front yard at the home of one of our North Korean orphans. Recently we have moved forward in our plans to expand our care for North Korean orphans in Northeast China. This is due to the overwhelming success of our Child Sponsorship Program. We can help more children because more of them are sponsored by our faithful supporters.

The children in this program have North Korean mothers who have either been captured by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea or have fled for freedom in South Korea. We have several orphanages spread out throughout Northeast China and we also partner with schools to pay for their education and some of their living expenses.

We want you to meet a two of our North Korean orphans so you can pray for them with us:

"Juhee" is 11 years old. Her mother was arrested in China four years ago and sent back to a North Korean prison camp. Her father is in his 50s and is unable to work because he is partially paralyzed. He purchased Juhee’s mother, a North Korean refugee, in the illegal sex trade that exploded in China following the North Korean famine of the 90s. She and her father live in extreme poverty. Please pray for her as she will continue to live with her father and go to a local private school.

"Sunhee" is a teenager and her mother escaped from China to South Korea in the early 2000s. It was unclear if her mother made the dangerous journey from China to South Korea via the Underground Railroad. They hadn’t heard from Sunhee’s mother for years. If a refugee is caught fleeing to South Korea, they are treated harshly in the North Korean prison camp system. Last year Sunhee and her father received a call from Sunhee’s mother for the very first time. Her mother had indeed made it to South Korea but there was no invitation to bring Sunhee or her father to South Korea. There was no money sent. It was a call to simply say hello with no promises of another call. Please pray for Sunhee as she continues with her schooling and attempts to move forward with her life.

Crossing Borders is committed to helping as many of North Korean orphans as we possibly can. We are looking for opportunities to help more families. Please pray for these children as we try to give them hope through education and the gospel.