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An update from Hea Woo, who planted a church in a North Korean labour camp


18 January 2019

Do you know the story of Hea Woo*, the North Korean Christian who planted a church in a prison camp? You may have heard her share her incredible testimony at the Spring Harvest and New Wine festivals in 2018. We recently asked her for an update – this is what she said.

Hea Woo on stage at New Wine.

A few days ago I woke up in the middle of night soaked in sweat. For a moment, I didn’t realize where I was. The panic grips me by the throat. I look around. I’m not back in the camp. I’m in my bedroom in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. I escaped from North Korea in 2010. Now I pray on my knees and worship and praise our Heavenly Father.

Time flies. It’s been nine years since I left North Korea and eight years since I arrived in South Korea. When I lived in North Korea, survival was my most important priority every single day. We were starving and suffering, and there was no freedom of religion or human right protections. Here, in free South Korea, I enjoy my daily life. I have the same 24 hours each day, but my life is so different from before.

My last eight years in South Korea have been filled with God’s mercies and grace. My life has turned out to be such a blessing. Every suffering and sorrow I experienced before is so precious to me. I was walking in the valley of death and now I am being used like the purified gold in Him.

Once, in the terrible prison, I almost died. The doctor told me I might only live for another three days at the most. I was hopeless. I could only pray to God, “Please don’t let me die here; instead, use me to tell the world about my faith and suffering in my country.”

My soul cried out to my Lord Jesus Christ, even in the midst of fading consciousness. I believed in the promise of God’s words in Jeremiah 33:3, which say, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

I repeated my prayer, “Lord, lift me from the valley of death, and use me to tell the world that which my faithful husband could not.” My husband died in a North Korean prison as a Christian believer.

Hallelujah! God answered the whispering sounds of my prayers in the prison. God protected me when I was at risk of public execution after evangelising in North Korea.

I am so thankful for everything that God gives me now that I am free to live in a country as a Christian believer. When I give thanks to God for the small things, God blesses me abundantly. God has changed my life from sorrow to joy. I am such a blessed person to be used as God’s ambassador in this world. How can I be more blessed than that!

Hea Woo site next to a river .

A free country

In North Korea there is a proverb which says, “You are less worthy than a street dog if you lose your country.”

I was wandering around in China to find freedom of religion and human rights. I was afraid of being captured and deported back to North Korea any moment.

From China, I was able to travel to South Korea by plane. Someone had arranged the money and papers for me. Even though I was an illegal immigrant, I could board the plane. I will never forget that night flight. It felt like I was boarding the plane in a dream. And I couldn’t believe I was on my way to a free country. It felt like I was leaving hell to fly to heaven.

But I also had concerns. When I was young, I was taught that most South Koreans were beggars living in shacks. All the time on board I kept praying. When we approached Seoul, I saw that the city was sparkling with many lights. I was stunned and ecstatic. My heart was pounding with joy. That instant, I knew that some of those lights came from crosses on churches.

When I arrived at the airport, I noticed a big sign that said: ‘Welcome to the Republic of Korea’. At that time, I recognized that I was stepping into a free country of religion and human rights. My eyes were full of joyful tears. It was the moment I was born again in South Korea, and the second phase of my life had begun.

Later, I began to observe things in South Korea. People on the street were smiling. I counted the numbers of crosses of the churches while walking the street. People can buy food at the market from anywhere; no one is wearing worn-out clothes and shoes; and there were always left-overs at every meal. I felt so bad to remember the street kids called ‘Kotjebi’ in North Korea who are suffering from starvation.

As soon as I came to South Korea I registered as a new member of a church. I studied Theology at Seminary and earned an M.Div. degree. I dedicated my life to His Heavenly Kingdom.

The one body of Christ

Wherever God calls me to go I obey His calling and travel all around the world to share my testimonies. I am God’s trumpet to speak out His will. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I want to glorify Him only.

Through Open Doors, I have been traveling to speak in the USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Netherlands, Sweden, and Australia. For the last seven years I’ve had the chance to meet Christian believers from all around the world, through Open Doors. God makes everything good so those Christian workers can cooperate together for His Kingdom.

I remember the faces of Christian believers who I met in each country. Those are such precious memories. We encouraged one another and prayed together for the persecuted believers. I am so impressed by their love and passion for the persecuted church. Their post cards and loving notes will always be my biggest treasure. I believe that we are the one body of Christ. God will use the prayers and support of those believers for the persecuted church.

2 Samuel 7:9 says that ‘I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great like the names of the greatest men of the earth.’

I believed the promise of God and His blessings to come after my suffering. It was my strength that I could miraculously survive in the valley of death.

Last year I moved to a new apartment which was provided by the South Korean government. I cried so much with joy while packing my belongings. I had nothing in my hands when I crossed the river to escape from North Korea. Now, God has blessed me and given me so many things. I was overwhelmed to count all the blessings given by Him. I dedicate my life again to glorify His name only.

Hea Woo's hands on her Bible.

I used to build a secret church service at the smelly toilet of the prison camp, where even the prison guard did not want to come and check. Now I can worship and sing the songs loudly in the open church buildings. I did not have access to a Bible in North Korea, but now I can open my Bible whenever I want. I could not have Christian fellowship with other believers in North Korea, or say the name of Jesus Christ, but I attended the prayer service and Christian fellowship meeting almost every day. I cried out to God to use me to tell my story to people outside the prison camp, and now I travel and share the love of God to believers all around the world. I was tortured and beaten with sticks, but now my heavenly prizes are so many. I have so many reasons to give thanks to God.

God inspired me to write several poems. Below is one of them.

Heavenly Father, Amazing God!

Let there be fruits on the tree of the living water

Even with the suffering to face

Let there be the fragrance of Jesus Christ

Jesus, blessed name Jesus!

Let us follow the road of the martyr

With so much grace and mercy upon me

Let me follow you to evangelise until the end

Heavenly Father, God of Salvation!

Have a mercy on the Korean Peninsula divided in two

With the hope of one evangelised country

Let us be your nation to glorify your name

Thank you, Open Doors. Thank you brothers and sisters around for the world for being such a blessing to me.

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN NORTH KOREA

North Korea is number one on the 2019 World Watch List, our annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. It’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a follower of Jesus.

And yet, despite the risks they face, Open Doors estimates that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 courageous secret Christians in North Korea, who believe that following Jesus is worth the risk.

You can make a difference to our church family in North Korea. Perhaps that sounds impossible. They are thousands of miles away, trapped in a country that sounds like a nightmare, facing challenges we can only begin to imagine. But there are three things you can do today to stand with them.

*names changed for security reasons

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