Where Will Anna Go? A North Korean refugee’s tale of hardship and hope


Imagine traveling over 100 miles on foot with the three most important people in your life, only to arrive in one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“Anna” is a North Korean refugee who crossed the Tumen River dividing North Korea and China with her three daughters. She knew she would be trafficked once she crossed the border into China. She knew the life in store for her would be more difficult than she could ever imagine. But Anna had little choice.

Crossing Borders understands that often, we are an interim ministry. That is, our work is only a part of the journey for many North Korean refugees who are seeking lives of hope and freedom. While they are in our care, we share what we can. From 2015 through 2018, we counseled Anna in her ongoing struggles through small gatherings and retreats throughout the year. We helped send her daughter “May” to a high school where she would gain a better education for her future. In 2017, we brought Anna medicine for her ongoing medical issues. We also shared with Anna the source of our strength. Anna’s response was of tremendous faith and with such faith came great healing.

Before escaping to China, Anna’s eldest daughter had been caught selling more vegetables than allowed by North Korean law. Her family had been struggling to make ends meet. Anna turned to every opportunity to make money for her family. But the North Korean police who found Anna’s daughter had no mercy. They beat her and forced her to sign a letter of confession. They would be coming to arrest her daughter. So Anna took her three children and fled in the dead of night.

The ordeal ahead of Anna was more terrible than she could have imagined.

Anna’s assumption that she would be allowed to stay with her family was false. Anna and her youngest daughter “May” were sold to a Chinese man as her two older children were separated from her. Two of Anna’s children simply disappeared from her life in a foreign land where their lives were at the mercy of men whose names they did not know.

“My life was one where I lived simply because I could not die,” Anna shared. She lived devoid of joy, in fear of death, to sustain her beloved daughter and husband. “It was a life of suffering.”

Anna toiled under the beating sun each day in China. Her skin grew dark and dry until it cracked, her fingers and palms became calloused like stone. Anna wearily planted and reaped each season. She had no community. She had no respite. She only had her labor. Our missionaries tell us that Anna is one of the hardest working women they have ever met. But she had nothing and nobody.

Anna cautiously entered Crossing Borders’ care in 2015. She was not quick to believe in God and belief was never forced upon her. Anna began to pray for herself and her family. Over time, she slowly came to believe in the Christian faith. In it, she found relief and joy. She asked for help in her work, for strength in her aching body and for help finding her lost daughter. Anna tells us of a healing relief that soothed her whole soul and body in response, invisible fuel that kept her strong in working day after day. As she grew in faith, Anna shared her joys and sought the source of her hope with others. In a pursuit to live and endure, she found a community of care, love and strength.

Seemingly by the slimmest of chances, Anna found herself with a desire to embrace life, even the great burden of her work. In the fields, Anna reflected on the happy worship of the women from whom she received understanding, kindness and grace. Together, the women had found what seemed a great gift. It was a hidden treasure, a secret delight that endured the weight of all their suffering and hardship. Something had changed.

Anna found hope. This hope did not merely bring help into her life. This hope transformed her life altogether.

Read more about the power of this hope in Anna’s life and her miraculous reunion with one of her daughters in Anna’s source of strength.