Myoung-Hee, a North Korean defector who now lives in South Korea, has spoken to the charity Open Doors about her experiences of discovering she was from a family of secret Christians, being trafficked in China, and returning to North Korea, only to be arrested and imprisoned. She was eventually able to escape. “My life story testifies of the power of prayer,” she said.
Discovering her family’s secret
Myoung-Hee remembers the day she found out she was from a Christian family, when she was a child in North Korea. Her father came home one day, completely distraught; he cried so loudly, Myoung-Hee feared the neighbours would tell the police. "Someone must have died," Myoung-Hee thought to herself. And she was right; her father's younger brother had been brutally executed for his faith in Christ.
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. "I wanted life to go back to normal," she said. "So I focused on school."
"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."
Escape to China
Sometime after leaving school, Myoung-Hee 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, Myoung-Hee is reluctant to talk about them. "I was caught by human traffickers and sold to a Chinese farmer," she said. "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."
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, Myoung-Hee 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 her to make this dangerous journey, but in the end they let her go.
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 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 honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge." Myoung-Hee said, "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 – Myoung-Hee 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
After her escape, Myoung-Hee was finally reunited with her North Korean 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 I 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."
Escaping to China - again
Myoung-Hee arrived safely back in China, thanks to various people who helped her. "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 with her. 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."
Photo of Myoung-Hee – face not shown to protect identity:
The most dangerous place to be a Christian
North Korea is number one on the Open Doors 2018 World Watch List, making it the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Despite this, Open Doors estimates that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians in North Korea, worshiping secretly, or imprisoned in labour camps.
Open Doors workers risk their lives to smuggle Bibles and other vital aid, such as food and medicine, into North Korea, to support persecuted Christians. Open Doors also runs safe houses for North Korean defectors in China, and broadcasts Christian radio programs into North Korea. Open Doors has launched an appeal to support this work.
*Name changed for security reasons