The Black Mushroom Project - Charting New Territory

On a random bus ride through one of China’s largest cities last year, a pastor gets on to start his day. The pastor, an ethnic Korean who is a Chinese citizen, hasn’t heard the Korean language spoken in public in years but this day he did. He went to speak with the two women who were quietly talking to one another and learns that they are North Korean refugees. Over the course of the ride, he gains these women’s trust and they tell him they are from North Korea but live in rural China, away from the North Korean border, and that there are many, many more like them.

The pastor started making regular visits in 2014 to this area to see if they need help and to share the gospel with them. Early this year, he contacted Crossing Borders. We decided to investigate, despite the fact that we have not ventured out of Northeast China since our operations started in 2003. What we found was an area where North Korean refugees experience much less government scrutiny but still struggle with issues related to poverty.

This new area is an interesting endeavor for us because we have never worked where North Korean refugees live and work in such freedom.

Our first priority in working with North Korean refugees in China is to find a place of safety for them. Without safety, people cannot move forward with their lives. They cannot heal. They cannot grow.

As we mentioned in our previous post, almost all of the ingredients for success were in place for our first Black Mushroom Project loan except the most important: safety.

So if we remove the very powerful element of fear, we have the freedom to operate under a new set of rules and expectations for our refugees. This is what we have found for this area where police are not trained to spot North Koreans and the government is not active in pursuing these people.

Most of the North Korean refugees we’ve worked with in the past have lived under stifling fear that, if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, they will be caught, hauled off to North Korea where they will face time in the country’s infamous prison system and face execution.

This is why we skipped the important first step of providing monthly support for the refugees in this area and went directly to helping them with medical care and providing ways to help them make a living.

This area is virtually untouched by Western influence. There is no church. People are Buddhist or believe in other indigenous superstitions. We made contact with this area through the pastor who had been visiting since 2014. We decided that the best thing we can do in the region is to help this pastor start a church, which will be completely self-funded.

Through this church, we can mount efforts to improve the quality of life for the refugees and their children in the area. It gives us an efficient contact point through which we can show the compassion of Christ to these people.

The North Korean refugee crisis started in the 1990s and continues to affect North Koreans and their children in the region. Over time the severity and nature of the issue has changed. As Crossing Borders continues to help this population, we have been able to change with it, providing a new kind of help to North Korean refugees in different kinds of situations. We will keep you posted on the developments of this new and exciting site. In the meantime, we ask for your prayers.

Forging Ahead: Into the Garbage - North Korean Refugee's Story

First of all, we want to thank each and every one of you who donated to Crossing Borders in 2014. We were able to take in three North Korean refugees because of the generosity of our donors in 2014. We will look to add even more people to our care this year. Here is the story of one person we took in:

Sook-hee lived with her husband and daughter in a North Korean mining town. After her husband died in an accident in North Korea, she had no means of supporting herself and her daughter. She decided to take the dangerous journey to China to find work.

Crossing Borders has never encountered a North Korean refugee who has lived in China for longer than Sook-hee. She has been in China for about 20 years, which means that she was one of the first to flee to China during the Great North Korean Famine.

Sook-hee was sold to her current husband who is severely disabled from a fishing accident. He does not have arms and is blind because of an explosion on his fishing boat. She was told her husband was severely disabled by her traffickers but was offered no alternative.

She and her husband live in Northeast China in utter poverty. They scour their city everyday looking for garbage they could exchange for money. They live on just $50 per month, which is considered extremely poor for her area. Their resources are even more stretched because they have a teenage son.

A few years ago, Sook-hee found out that her daughter in North Korea died. Her daughter was 11-years-old when Sook-hee left. She found out about her daughter’s death when she received a picture of her daughter’s famished body. Sook-hee had been saving money to bring her daughter to China.

When we first told her that we could help her, she was suspicious.

“I can’t join your church because I have no money,” she said. There is an acute distrust of Christians in her city because there have been cults and other churches in the area who have swindled money from the people there.

During our staff’s lunch meeting with her, Sook-hee was very uncomfortable and was not able to eat anything besides vegetables and rice. She repeatedly asked what she needed to do to receive the aid but we assured her that she didn’t need to do anything.

For the first time in her life, Sook-hee was being offered a helping hand. The concept was so foreign to her that she didn’t know what to do.

In addition to her abject poverty, Sook-hee, as a North Korean refugee, is an illegal immigrant of China. When she collects garbage with her husband, she has to watch out for any potential threats to both herself because of her legal status and her husband because he is blind.

We hope that, through our aid, she will be able to feel the love, security and compassion of God.

Thank you to all of you who are involved in her restoration.

China Facts: China's Economy - North Korean Refugee Crisis

How do China's economic ties with North Korea affect the North Korean refugee crisis in China? In order for the Communist Party in China to remain in power, it must have a growing economy. Unemployed people = Unhappy people

Graph of China, US GDP Growth Rate Since 2000 Source: World Bank

Though China’s growth has made it the world’s second-largest country by GDP, because of the sheer size of the country, many of its people remain in poverty ranking 121 out of 228 countries.

China must support its breakneck economic growth by securing resources from around the world for cheap.

This is part of the reason why China wants to keep close economic ties to North Korea.


China represents about 60 percent of North Korea's economy, according to the Congressional Research Service. And this relationship continues to grow.


What China gets out of this relationship are cheap raw materials, which are abundant in North Korea.

Natural resources accounted for 73 percent of North Korea’s bilateral trade with China in 2012, according to the Korea Times.

Over the past 10 years, China has effectively propped up the dysfunctional North Korean economy and provided little incentive for the regime to change its ways. It has done so at the expense of the people of North Korea, many of whom report to us widespread poverty in the country's outer-regions.

The people of North Korea continue to suffer while the elite in North Korea prospers. The Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un spent $644 million dollars in luxury goods last year. North Korea recently requested $600 million in food aid.

China's economic ties to North Korea creates the situation from which the North Korean refugees flee from. These same North Korean refugees are those who China refuses to accept into their country. This is why the work of Crossing Borders is essential in the region. As North Korean refugees cross into China and as China refuses to offer any human rights to these people, we will continue to be a safety net for the people of North Korea, who have suffered so greatly.

Stay tuned for more facts about China.