The ultimate goal of Crossing Borders’ mission teams has never been to provide job training, medicine or financial support. All resources are under the greater purpose to help North Korean refugees build communities. It is a pursuit to gather people focused on faith, hope and love.
North Korean refugees have survived disaster. Medical professionals who have worked with Crossing Borders have diagnosed many refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Medicine, shelter, counseling - all of these tools are used to help refugees in Crossing Borders’ network. Crossing Borders has labored for over 16 years to practically change lives of North Korean refugees. But in response to individuals who have tangible needs, the primary objectives to create friendship or unity seem ephemeral or impractical. Crossing Borders missionaries could be helping North Korean refugees by helping labor on their farms, developing labor skills or distributing money. But instead, much of Crossing Borders’ work has gone into teaching refugees about the kindness and goodness of community.
Even volunteers on Crossing Borders’ mission teams, foreseeably, have asked a natural question when hearing this.
“Why retreats? Why community-building?”
As much as Crossing Borders is dedicated to providing job training, medicine, and counseling to the best of the organization’s ability, the work conducted by the organization is always going to be a drop in the bucket. Over a thousand refugees have been impacted by the work of the Crossing Borders missionaries on the field. But the fact remains that over 200,000 North Korean refugees are still in hiding in China.
It is also a stark reality that the conditions that allow Crossing Borders to continue its work are not controllable. The work to help refugees in China remains illegal. China does not recognize fleeing North Koreans as refugees. North Koreans have no rights protecting their lives. They are arrested. They are sent back to face further injustice in North Korea. Crossing Borders fights for justice but cannot deliver this justice in the face of China’s legal system. Missionaries can be blacklisted. Entire areas of the network to help North Koreans can become impossible to sustain at any moment.
What is the best, lasting work that Crossing Borders can do that will outlive the organization’s current resources, its longevity, or the capacity of current missionaries?
Crossing Borders works to help refugees to gain an understanding of their own agency. North Korean people, together, despite their circumstances, can build a life together. They are capable of helping, supporting, teaching one another with compassion for one another’s struggles. In this process, Crossing Borders will continue to support efforts to create a community of endurance and trust.
The mission of Crossing Borders has always been to share compassion for refugees in hardship. The organization has, over the past 12 years, used over $1.2 million toward placing resources in China that can serve North Korean refugees and their children. Whether it was prescription eyeglasses, transportation, vitamins, education, monetary stipends for households, counseling, job training, or caregiving, Crossing Borders has been committed to meet North Koreans’ physical and psychological needs.
But stability is greatly needed for refugees in their personal lives. Even as physical and emotional needs are being met, there must be a deeper fulfillment that gives individuals purpose and meaning. While intangible, goodness is richly found when refugees discover the inherent value of their existence. With this, they can fight to overcome their obstacles.
It is for this reason that Crossing Borders is focused on helping refugees discover faith, hope and love together. The applicable truth of the Christian gospel is necessary for them to find the purpose of caring, seeking joy, encouraging one another. Crossing Borders will continue to harbor North Koreans to meet their needs. The hope is that one day, the North Korean refugees in this network will not only receive the compassion of our missionaries and supporters, but be able to share the same compassion with many others.