SEOUL, South Korea – Despite the kind and peaceful face North Korea presented at the Winter Olympics, many North Korean defectors tell stories of a dark, oppressive regime.
Two of them recently shared with CBN News how they fled the country to escape death, hardship and persecution. For security reasons, they requested their identities not to be revealed.
For the sake of telling their story, we will call them Jae-un and Sung-min – both North Korean defectors.
Jae-un is the lone survivor in a family of five siblings. Her father was taken to a labor camp in North Korea when she was 2 years old. He was never heard of again. During the Great Famine in the mid-1990’s, her only brother died of malnutrition. Her mother died on the road while trying to find food to bring back to her starving family.
Jae-un, vividly recalled in tears, the hardship they went through.
“During the famine, we only got rice once in three days. When my mother died, we did not have the strength to bury her. My older sister went to China to earn a living for the family. She sent money once to buy rice but I never heard of her after that. I learned that she was sold as a slave. My other sister engaged in smuggling, got caught, and was sent to a labor camp where she also died.”
Out of desperation, Jae-un decided to escape from North Korea.
One night in December of 1999, she crossed the Yalu River and swam for the Chinese border. The water was freezing and the current was so strong but she was determined to survive.
After arriving in China, she chose to be sold to a man so she could live in the big city. But she ran away from him because he did not treat her well.
It was then that Jae-un joined a Bible study group in China. She remembered the woman she met prior to her escape who spoke to her about God.
Jae-un said she was impressed with the woman’s kindness. “She gave me money to buy three months worth of rice and she told me that God is alive and is with me since He is the Father to the fatherless and the defender of the widows. I had heard of God in North Korea but I was also aware that believers are taken to prison. I realized that God loves me.”
Jae-un was able to make a phone call to her only surviving sister in North Korea and shared with her about Jesus Christ. She was so happy that her sister accepted Christ as Savior.
However, officials discovered that they were communicating, and so they took her sister to a labor camp. And since then she never heard of her again.
Jae-un married a North Korean man she met in church and they eventually moved to South Korea.
Unlike Jae-un who lived in poverty, Sung-min was well-off and a college graduate in North Korea. But he says he was disenchanted with his country and decided to leave.
He told CBN News, “I knew that the Kim regime was enjoying a luxurious life while so many people were starving to death. In January 2007, I crossed the Tumen River into China. However, the South Korean family I met there didn’t welcome me because I was not part of their family.
The border guards told me to go to a church where I can get help but I refused because I was an atheist.
I hid in an apartment in China and started to find ways to commit suicide. In June 2007, a Chinese man I got to know during the river-crossing brought a preacher to me. I refused to meet him at first, but we got to talk anyway. He said he understood my hardships and Jesus Christ died on the cross for me. When I heard it, I felt something heavy in my heart. It was the first time in my life that I had such feelings. I thought I was nothing but Jesus died on the cross to give me eternal life! I cried, knelt down and prayed with him.”
Sung-min believes 60,000 North Koreans have defected but half of them decided to return to North Korea. He says they have gone back to minister to their families. There are about 30,000 of them who belong to the underground churches in North Korea.
Today, Jae-un and Sung-min run a Christian radio program in South Korea that features North Koreans transformed by Christ. The program also promotes unity among North and South Koreans in preparation for reunification.
Sung-min says, “I believe God has a plan for us and will reunite Korea in his time and in his way. Our program aims to embrace the differences and restore common identity of the people of two Koreas. I believe around 10 million North Koreans are listening to our program. Some one million people listened to the South Korean program when I was back in North Korea. Now there are more mobile devices, so I believe at least 10 million are listening to it once a week or once a month.”
Jae-un also shares her sentiments, “I believe it’s my job to prepare for unification and help the North Koreans. Even though my life was extremely harsh, God chose me as His child and it is Him who brought me here. So I will praise His name and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ until the very end of my life.”