North Korean Refugees: A Meaningless Epidemic

What is it like to realize that everything you once thought true is not? How does it feel when you realize up is down and down is up? This is happening to tens of thousands of North Korean refugees and people today today. "Eun," a North Korean refugee, lived a relatively normal life in North Korea. She worked odd jobs, as a child, through the famine. She had full belief in her government until she heard a knock at the door of her home. It was a North Korean woman who had returned from a stay in China. The woman was pregnant and about to give birth.

Eun worked as a midwife when she was 12. She helped this complete stranger deliver a baby in her living room. When it was discovered that the baby was conceived in China, word spread quickly to the authorities and the woman and child were sent to prison. Eun was interrogated harshly for days about her association to this woman.

“It was then I began to question the regime and everything that I knew,” Eun said. “I was lost.”

Many North Korean refugees speak of a point in their lives when they began to question what their country taught them. North Korean children are indoctrinated at a very early age to believe in the god-like power of their founder, Kim Il Sung. They are also taught that they live in paradise on earth.

North Koreans do not have legal access to any information that can dispute their government’s claims. All foreign media is banned. They have no Internet access. They are in a bubble of lies. When the bubble pops, they are often left in shock, grief and lives that feel as if they are void of meaning.

With information from the outside world leaking into North Korea and North Korean refugees spilling out, there is a crisis of depression growing in North Koreans around the world.

This weight of self-doubt and betrayal only adds to the already treacherous and terrible conditions many North Korean refugees suffer in China. Most women who enter into China are sold as commodities to the highest bidder. Many are treated like slaves and forced to cook, raise livestock and farm.

North Korean refugees are also hunted down by the Chinese police and forced to live in terror. If caught, they are sent back, imprisoned, tortured and even executed. Many women in China stay inside and keep an eye on a window. Fear and insecurity rules over their every waking moment.

It is in this crisis that Crossing Borders enters into the lives of North Korean refugees. Many tell us how that they disjointed they feel after they realize they’ve been lied to their whole lives.

North Koreans are taught to hate Americans and especially Christians. Americans are supposed to be cannibals. Christians are supposed to be evil, wicked people who will bring them pain. When North Korean refugees realize that their only means of sustenance and safety are delivered by American Christians, they feel upside-down.

Crossing Borders works to bring meaning into the lives of North Korean refugees by empowering them to follow their dreams. Eun arrived in China with her father, who unable to receive proper treatment for edema. He died shortly after they arrived in China. When our missionaries first met her, she was afraid, mourning in the wake of her father’s death.

Eun experienced great mistreatment following her father's passing because she was recognized as a North Korean refugee. She hid in the guardianship of a woman who used her for long hours of unpaid labor as a maid. Eun worked so hard that the skin on her hands began to crack. She came to us only as she realized that her "guardian" was in the process of negotiating a deal to sell her to a Chinese man in a forced marriage. Having encountered the world outside of North Korea in such a harsh and cruel way, having lost her father and all hope for a life outside of fear and poverty, Eun felt as if her life was crashing down around her.

Crossing Borders worked quickly to verify Eun’s story, understanding that time was of the essence. Once we determined she was telling the truth, we helped her escape China. She was able to attain North Korean refugee status on the Underground Railroad and enter South Korea.

However, like many North Korean defectors, Eun had difficulty in South Korea, where she was discriminated against. She thought she would be better off in Canada, where she lives today.

It is an amazing thing to see Eun living now, outside the oppressive conditions of China and North Korea. She recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy with her husband who is also a North Korean refugee. She emails our staff pictures and thanks us for helping her. She wrote this in one of her emails to our staff:

“Teacher, I will live diligently for the day of reunification of North and South and for my home village in North Korea. I have a dream. Some people tell me that my dream cannot come true. But, I believe my dream will come true someday if it's Jesus' will. And, in whatever I do, I want to be a person who spreads good news about God.”

Eun is now living a life of meaning. Not only because she has gained freedom from Chinese and North Korean authorities. It is because through her journey, she was able to find God's compassion in our work, to find meaning in the gospel which drove us to such lengths to help her. Crossing Borders is thankful to have been a part of the process of sharing and revealing God's love for her in our work to free her from physical and spiritual bondage.

Please pray for Eun and the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees who have not experienced the liberating power of the gospel. Please pray for Crossing Borders to continue to show the compassion of Christ to these people.