North Korean Refugees: Ok-seo’s Struggle for Peace and Heat

Crossing Borders has two organizational functions: first, to raise funds and second, to use these funds wisely to help North Korean refugees in China. But sometimes it is easy for us to think that the funds that we raise can solve every problem. As you pray with us this year, please pray for that we would rely on God for everything. The ongoing life of "Ok-seo", a North Korean refugee in our care who we have shared about before through our blog, continues to remind us that the most important thing for us to do is to ask God to take control in the life of our refugees.

Ok-seo has trouble picking up her husband’s native tongue: Mandarin. This causes a lot of trouble in her household. She gets into fights with her husband and is often physically abused by him. But she cannot leave her family because they have a son and it would be difficult for her to run away with her young child.

Ok-seo’s family went without heat this past winter. We have been helping her with a small, monthly stipend for the past couple years to cover living expenses. Ok-seo's husband, however, decided late last year to stop working for reasons unclear to Ok-seo and our workers on the ground.

Her husband is described as extremely lazy by Ok-seo and our missionaries. He was coddled as a child and is unable to handle adversity, according to our sources familiar with the couple.

China’s northernmost recesses are extremely cold in the winter. Ok-seo lives near the border of Siberia, where it can reach 30 to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit without the wind chill. It’s hard for us to imagine how hard it is for the family to stay warm without heat.

It would be easy for us to raise funds to give the couple extra funds to heat their home but we fear this will give Ok-seo's husband even less incentive to work. We could also cut our support to them all together to encourage her husband to work but this would leave the family without enough food.

Last year we posted a video of Ok-seo singing a song she wrote about God’s grace in her life. This song is based on a traditional North Korean tune used to praise Kim Il Sung.

North Korean Refugee Sings a Song She Wrote from Crossing Borders on Vimeo.

Her song is an example of how Ok-seo, like many North Korean refugees in our care, has replaced a man-made idol for the true and living God. Through her struggles she continues to lean on God to carry her through.

As she was explaining her situation to our staff member, Ok-seo expressed her thankfulness at how God had changed her heart. Her circumstances might not have improved but she has something that she never had before.

“Before I had no hope,” she said in a recent interview. “Now I have hope.”

Though Ok-seo’s circumstances are dire, her soul continues to soar with supernatural strength and courage.

As we continue to pray for Ok-seo and North Korean refugees like her, we pray not for more money but that God would get involved in her marriage and that in Christ her husband might change. Please pray with us as we continue to seek wisdom in helping Ok-seo.

Prayer for North Korean Refugees: Restoration Song

North Korean Refugee Sings a Song She Wrote from Crossing Borders on Vimeo.

This is not a song one would think that a North Korean refugee would write. It is especially unexpected of a woman who has been trafficked and physically abused, a woman who has spent time in a North Korean prison camp. However, after two years in the care of Crossing Borders, having received the gospel and been ministered to by the faithful missionaries on the field, “Ok-seo,” one of the North Korean refugees a part of Restore Life program shared this personally written song with us. Ok-seo has found hope in Christ through the underground church in China.

Ok-seo was well to do in North Korea. She didn’t suffer during the Great North Korean Famine of the 1990s during which an estimated 3 million people starved to death. But when her husband took her 10-year-old son with him to be with another woman, her life took a turn for the worse.

She began selling copper taken from electrical wiring on North Korea’s sputtering electrical grid. This is a grave crime in North Korea and when caught, she was sent to prison. Ok-seo, however, said that she had been lucky. If she had be caught stealing wires going to or from the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang, she would have been executed.

When Ok-seo got out of prison, her friend who was also in the copper trade, told her that she could make $500 a month in China in a tailoring factory. But when she crossed the border she immediately realized that something was very wrong. Ok-seo had been tricked. She had stepped into the waiting hands of a human trafficking ring. Ok-seo begged her captors to sell her to someone without physical defects. Many North Korean refugee women are sold to Chinese men with disabilities. They honored her request and sold Ok-seo to a Chinese farmer who had an immense amount of debt.

Her husband and his family physically and verbally abused Ok-seo to the point where she would get severe migraines. Desperate, she turned to a neighbor, a fellow North Korean refugee who was also trafficked. This woman brought her to church.

Ok-seo said that shortly after she started attending church, her migraines went away.

Outwardly, Ok-seo's situation as a North Korean refugee has not changed. She is still struggling to find the means to survive with her family. However, her outlook on life has transformed. Ok-seo was recently given a journal from our missionaries and wrote the lyrics to the song she she shared after North Korean women in her village were sent back to North Korea. The tune is a of a traditional North Korean song.

In fear, Ok-seo has found hope. Please pray for her and the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees like her - that they would find restoration and strength in God.

*Note: Ok-seo is a part of our Refugee Rescue Fund where you can sponsor women like her in Restore Life and receive regular updates on them.