Myoung-Hee Escapes North Korean Prison Camp to Share Her Faith with Family
It’s over four decades later, but Myoung-Hee can still see her father stumbling into their home. He was pale and weak, possibly very ill. He gestured that he desperately wanted to speak. 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 neighbors would warn 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 was brutally executed for his faith.
Myoung-Hee didn’t witness the execution, but she quickly learned that he wasn’t the only one who was killed. More than ten people were murdered for belonging to Christ. She was let in on the family secret: most of them were Christians. However, the government’s message that threats against the government were not tolerated was heard by her loud and clear. She knew her family members were Christians, but she did not want to have anything to do with their faith. “I wanted life to go back to normal. So I focused on school. In my free time, I read. I particularly liked Leo Tolstoy. Back then, I didn’t know he was actually a Christian.”
These Russian writers changed her worldview. It seemed that life outside North Korea was much different. However, she knew better than to ask questions of anyone. More and more people she knew went missing. They had received ‘special treatment.’ “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 graduating high 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 share 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 behaviors. 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. She was very surprised to see I followed her, but I was 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.”
Her conversion to becoming a follower of Jesus wasn’t anything dramatic. She continued to go to the meetings with her mother-in-law and grew in faith and knowledge. After some time, she had the desire 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.
An Invisible Power
The border crossing went horribly wrong. She was almost immediately arrested by a military patrol and sent to a district prison. Myoung-Hee 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 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 memorized Bible verses to herself, especially verses 6 and 7 from Psalm 62. “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 barrack. I sneaked 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.”
Worship 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. I slowly came the realization 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 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 (who is in her mid-forties), her husband and son (who became believers) are now in South Korea. They 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 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.”
Each year, we help hundreds of North Korean refugees who illegally and at great risk travel to China. Through our underground network, Open Doors supports tens of thousands of North Korean Christians with food, medicines, clothes, biblical training, radio broadcasts and Christian materials.