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North Korea: "Every time I lost hope, God gave me strength"
19 April 2017
As international tensions with North Korea increase, life for our church family in North Korea becomes even more difficult than before. During periods of upheaval, North Korean people are monitored more closely, and the borders are guarded more carefully; there is more danger that a Christian may be discovered, and it is harder for them to cross the border into China where they can be given food, medicines and Bibles by Open Doors workers.
Myoung-Hee, a North Korean Christian, knows better than most the dangers of deciding to follow Jesus in North Korea. She can still remember her father stumbling into their home, completely distraught, when she was a child. He looked pale. Myoung-Hee's mother sent the young girl to her room. Then her father broke down. He cried so loudly, that Myoung-Hee feared the neighbours would tell the police. Her mother pushed him into the bathroom and locked the door. "Someone must have died," she thought to herself. She was right. Her father's younger brother had been brutally executed for his faith in Christ.
Myoung-Hee quickly learned that her uncle wasn't the only one who was killed. More than ten people were murdered for following Jesus. She was let in on the family secret: most of her relatives were Christians. But Myoung-Hee knew that 'threats' against the government were not tolerated, and she did not want to have anything to do with the Christian faith. She says, "I wanted life to go back to normal. So I focused on school. In my free time I read lots of translated Russian books. I got the books from the local library. I particularly liked Leo Tolstoy. Back then, I didn't know he was actually a Christian."
What her teachers didn't do, the Russian writers did. They changed her world view. It seemed that life outside North Korea was very different. However, she knew better than to ask questions of anyone. More and more people she knew went missing. "I wanted to leave North Korea. The North Korean state actually gave me the opportunity to go to China in a sponsored student program, but I refused. Going abroad under the umbrella of the state meant they would monitor and control me severely. No, if I wanted to leave, I had to go by myself without telling anyone."
Sometime after leaving school, she went to the Chinese border, swam the river and left her home country behind. She trekked inland until she came to a village. When asked about her experiences there, she is reluctant to talk about them. But the facts tell the story. "I was caught by human traffickers and sold to a Chinese farmer. He wasn't as bad as most Chinese men who buy North Korean women. I had a child with him. But still... I thought I could never feel at home in this family."
Secretly followed to church
Her mother-in-law also lived with Myoung-Hee and her Chinese husband. "She showed suspicious behaviours. Some days she left without telling where she was going.
"One night I decided to follow her. It was a long way before she reached the place where some kind of meeting was going on. I called her. Of course she was very surprised to see me. But I was still invited to participate. I quickly discovered it was a Christian meeting, which made me uncomfortable because in my country I had always been against Christianity. My curiosity beat my fear and I decided to stay. I actually wanted to learn more about God."
She continued to go to the meetings with her mother-in-law and grew in faith and knowledge. After some time, she wanted to let her family back in North Korea know that she had become a Christian. Her Chinese family, probably less naïve than she was, did not want to let her go, but in the end she won the argument.
Back to North Korea
The border crossing back into North Korea went horribly wrong. Myoung-Hee was almost immediately arrested by a military patrol and sent to a district prison. She finds it difficult to talk about these events in detail. "When I saw how the other prisoners and I were treated, as if we weren't humans, I gave up life. I trembled often in prison and thought I would never see my earthly family again."
After some time, she began to notice something different. "Something was stirred in my heart that was impossible to resist, like an invisible power. I felt it every time I wanted to give up hope. That power was God himself. He was with me and didn't want me to give up."
She repeated memorised Bible verses to herself, especially verses 6 and 7 from Psalm 62: "Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge." Myoung-Hee says, "And then I begged God for mercy. All I wanted was a chance to be reunited with my family and to worship God together with them."
After a few months in the camp, the prison guards found out her family background, and - as is the custom in North Korea - she was transferred to a camp closer to her hometown. This camp had less surveillance. "I took this as a sign from God to try to escape. I knew he would protect me. One night, the guards were drunk and they hadn't locked the door of the barracks. I snuck out and ran through the gate. My heart was pounding so fast! I didn't stop running until I came to a sign that pointed me the way to my hometown."
Worshiping God together for the first time
She was able to reunite with her family. "It was the most joyous experience ever. We were so happy to see each other, and for the first time, we worshipped God together as a family. Later, I also attended small gatherings of other Christian families.
"Slowly came the realisation that God had guided me every step of the way. He had a purpose for every experience, no matter how painful it was. It all happened to prepare me to share the gospel to the lost people in North Korea and China. First and foremost to the next generation.
"That's why I decided I needed to go back to my Chinese family. My husband and my son had to hear the gospel too. It was a dangerous trip. I could get arrested again and be severely punished. But nothing could extinguish my passion for Christ."
She arrived safely back in China and thanks all the people who assisted her through the process. "They were truly the hands of God to protect and guide my journey. I wish more people could have the blessing that I received through them."
Myoung-Hee is in her mid-forties now. Her husband and son, who became believers, are now in South Korea. They are happier than ever before and serve God by supporting the North Korean mission. "I will never forget my childhood. There are so many Christian parents in North Korea who cannot share their faith with their children. It breaks my heart. I was once a victim of this too.
"But thanks to praying people I found God in the end. And thanks to the prayers of my mother-in-law, I survived prison too. My life story testifies of the power of prayer. I hope it's a call to all brothers and sisters in Christ to join in prayer so that God will bring grace and justice to my country."
Stand with your church family in North Korea
Your support enables Open Doors to strengthen the underground church in North Korea by providing food, medicines, clothes, financial support, biblical training, safe houses in China, and pastoral care.
- Each year we help hundreds of North Korean refugees who take the risk of illegally traveling to China. We support them in our safe houses and give practical aid. Very often they take what they received in physical or financial goods back to North Korea to support their families. Their increased faith and biblical knowledge is shared with their families as well. As a result, new house churches emerge in North Korea.
- Each year we also support and train between 150 and 200 trafficked North Korean women who now live in China.
- Through our underground network we are also able to support tens of thousands of North Korean Christians with food, medicines, clothes, biblical training, radio broadcasts and Christian materials.
None of this work would be possible without your prayers and gifts. Please use the prayer points below to pray for North Korea, and give to support our work - every £35 can provide vital food, medicine and clothes for a struggling North Korean family.
- For protection and strength for North Korea's secret believers, particularly as they are scrutinised more carefully during this time of international tension
- That the children of secret believers will come to faith, even if their parents can't tell them about Jesus safely
- For comfort for imprisoned believers - we estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 believers are incarcerated in North Korea
- That one day soon North Koreans will be free to worship Jesus.
More News from North Korea:
- Otto Warmbier dies after detention in North Korea
- A trafficked woman's precious Thank You note
- Man accused of 'spying' after visiting Christian relatives in China
- Leader's half-brother dies; missionaries expelled
- Risking it all
Find out more about persecution in North Korea.