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.

Prayer for North Korean Refugees: Freedom

How do you think North Korean refugees envision freedom? Take a look at your schedule today, only two days from the 4th of July - a holiday when we celebrate our freedom as citizens of the United States.

What is it filled with? Work to complete? Errands to run? We are all so busy these days. If our jobs aren’t taking more than 40 hours a week, our social lives or families are. None of us are trapped or persecuted by authorities. But many may feel oppressed and stuck in the hectic cycle of our day-to-day lives.

On Saturday, the New York Times printed a fascinating column about this. Author Tom Kreider spells out the pitfalls of modern American busyness.

“Almost everyone I know is busy,” he said. “They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications.”

And what it all adds up to, according to Kreider, is a pile of work to cover up the fact that our lives are often empty.

What does it mean, then, if even our scheduled leisure time, our rigorously organized holidays and days set aside for exciting activities add up to empty lives? If freedom is not found in barbecue or fireworks or all the leisure in the world, where do we stand as a people who are "free"?

The Word tells us quite simply in 2 Corinthians, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

As followers of God, our calling is not to only to celebrate freedom in rights or in leisure. Our calling is to celebrate having freedom in salvation. Because of the work of Christ, we live in the Spirit's satisfaction. We are made whole and overflowing. We live free of fear, of condemnation, of death.

However, we acknowledge still that North Korean refugees, and many around the world, struggle in fear. They are not only politically imprisoned, made slaves of hunger, poverty, and fear. They are not free to hear the gospel. They are not free to access the freedom God extends to them through the Spirit. It is for these reason that Crossing Borders works to reach them, beyond the borders of oppression, starvation, and pain.

So this 4th of July, please help us to thank God for the freedoms we enjoy, not only for our privileged lives and civil liberties, but for the Spirit. Most importantly, please help us to pray for and serve those who need this same freedom. Help us to provide for their material needs and most importantly, for their spiritual hunger.

Bernard Malamud, author of “The Natural” once wrote, “The purpose of freedom is to create it for others.”

The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

Today, as we pray, let us ask God that this freedom that we celebrate would not be wasted. Let's pray that the freedom of the Spirit would be delivered in the healing and empowerment to North Korean refugees in China and the oppressed around the world.

Prayer for North Korean Refugees: A Time of Danger

This week we ask for your prayers regarding the safety of North Korean refugees in China and the missionaries and field workers who care for them. Every so often China uses anniversaries and celebrations to make sweeps of border towns and round up North Koreans to strike fear in the refugee population and the people who help them. In show of force, Chinese authorities are sweeping the streets in the Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture in celebration of its 60th year of existence on September 3 of this year. This is one region where many North Korean refugees hide and where many aid workers are operate secretly.

In February we reported on our Twitter feed that 26 North Korean refugees were captured by the Chinese police, many of whom were sent back to North Korea’s brutal system of political concentration camps.

Today is also the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest and massacre. China is on high alert. A strange coincidence happened today as the Shanghai stock market index fell 64.89 points. That’s 6-4-89, the date of the massacre. This has created a cultural phenomenon in China in remembrance of the massacre. China has already blocked web searches for “Shanghai Stock Market,” according to reports by the Los Angeles Times.

Our eyes on the ground reported that Chinese policemen are patrolling the streets in greater numbers, two-by-two on every street in the Yanbian province.

The 26 refugees caught last year and the missionary who was shot, possibly killed, recently are tactics by the Chinese and North Korean authorities to terrorize the tens-of-thousands of North Korean refugees who are hiding and deter those who risk their lives to support them.

Please continue to pray for the safety of our staff workers and especially the North Korean refugees in our care.