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North Korea: Hwa-Young's powerful ministry to trafficked women

05 January 2017

Desperate and vulnerable, many trafficked North Korean women have no idea what awaits them when they arrive in northeast China. Sold into marriage or servitude, most are abused and ill-treated by their new husbands and captors. But for some women, this new life provides an unforeseen hope as brave evangelists reach out to them: evangelists like Hwa-Young*.

"When you first got on the plane to minister to trafficked North Korean women, did you have any doubts?" asks an Open Doors worker.

"No doubts. No fear," Hwa-Young replies. "I'm an experienced woman. The first two years were more difficult than I thought. But now I don't have any fear of death. I'm a single woman, and if it's necessary I don't mind dying for this cause."

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Raised in fear: poverty, executions and continued abuse

Reaching out to North Korean women has been challenging for Hwa-Young, not least because of cultural barriers and psychological issues they carry.

"Pyongyang was once the Jerusalem of the East," Hwa-Young explains, referring to how Christianity used to be prevalent in the capital. "Now the people have to worship idols of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in this city... The women were raised in fear.

"They grew up in severe poverty. They are always hungry. All of them know what it is like to worry about every meal, to eat from the trash and to beg for food.

"They go to pre-school in North Korea when they are about five years old. But they are still forced to watch public executions. Sometimes friends or neighbours were murdered in front of their eyes.

"Even when they are older and leave the country, they still experience that psychological pressure of fear. There is much more freedom here in China, but the women are still not safe. Additionally, most of them have been abused, both in North Korea and in China. They feel numb. They don't even feel the hurt anymore."

Grace's story

Trafficked to China - Hwa-Young's powerful ministry to women

But through years of experience and work, Hwa-Young has been connecting with these broken women and teaching them about forgiveness. And many have been changed because of Jesus' love.

One of these women was a lady called Grace*. But one day, Hwa-Young received the call that no-one wants to hear: Grace was missing.

Unable to produce an identity card because of her illegal residence in China, Grace had been repatriated to North Korea. "I was shocked and didn't know what to do," says Hwa-Young. "I was very fearful. Not for myself, but that other women would be arrested too."

Hwa-Young later discovered that Grace had been taken to a North Korean prison camp as a 'defector'. A police officer asked if Grace knew anyone with money and was willing to free her if she did. Grace made a desperate phone call to China, and her friends were able to collect the large sum of money required. Thankfully, she was freed one month later.

"After they let her go, she stayed with her sisters for six months to recover," says Hwa-Young. "Then she escaped to China again and was welcomed back into our group."

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Open Doors: supporting North Korean women

Hwa-Young is one of a number of workers for Open Doors serving trafficked North Korean women in China. Every year, they serve around 150-250 women with practical assistance, pastoral care and through Bible studies.

"The goal of our women's project is to raise up female leaders for the future," says Hwa-Young. "Every summer and winter we have more intensive Bible studies for ladies who show the willingness and potential to grow into leaders."

Around ten of the ladies are currently being trained to become leaders in women-to-women ministry in China. The long-term dream is that these women will help to build the church of the future in North Korea - the country which currently ranks as the most hostile place for Christians in the world on Open Doors' World Watch List.

You can help support Open Doors' work with North Korean believers:

*Names changed for security reasons

More News from North Korea:

Find out more about persecution in North Korea.