Chun steers her car around the potholes in the wet street. “Look.” she says, pointing out the window, “In these concrete flats live a lot of other North Korean refugees.” A few minutes later, we sit on the floor in her living room and talk about life here in South Korea. Nothing in her manner suggests that she was tortured, that her first encounter with Christian love was in prison, that her daughter was kidnapped at the age of two, and that she herself was sold as if she were nothing more than cattle.
Her story begins in a North Korean city bordering China where she was sent to serve in the army. Chun excelled in the military, quickly rising to become a high-ranking officer. After she finished her enlistment and received an honorable discharge, she returned to her family. Decades of bad policies had virtually bankrupted the North Korean economy leaving few options for making money. Her family suggested she find a husband to take care of her. She soon found herself trapped in a marriage with a husband who was frequently drunk and beat her.
“I lived like the kotchebi, or street children,” Chun says. “I didn’t want to be home. I escaped to China several times by crossing the river. Unfortunately, each time I was arrested and repatriated to my own country. Because I used to be a high ranking officer, I received a harsher punishment. I was beaten and tortured so badly that I could barely stand up.”
The prison cells are always dirty, small and overcrowded. “There were so many women in our cell that I couldn’t lie down. There was one lady who was kind to me. When I was in so much pain, she invited me to lay my head in her lap. As she stroked my hair, I realized she was saying strange things. I tried to talk and ask her what she was doing. She shushed me, and told me to rest. It was my first encounter with the love of Christ given to me through someone else.”
After her release from prison, Chun returned to her husband and became pregnant. “I could not stay with him. He was too abusive, so I left. I gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter on the platform of a railway station. Some ladies helped me during the delivery. They broke a glass and used it to cut the umbilical cord, and an old woman took the laces from her shoes to tie it up.”
Chun raised her daughter on the streets for two years. “We stayed near the border river and slept under a bridge. We didn’t have any pillows or blankets. Frequently, soldiers threw stuff to us. They gave us food and plastic sheets. In the morning, my daughter used to wake up cheerful. She pulled at me and shouted, ‘Mom, look! It’s a blue sky! It’s a new day!’ I hated it when she did that. A new day was nothing to look forward to. It was just another day of misery, hunger and suffering. My only concern was how to get through it.”
Eventually, she made plans for one last attempt to escape to China together with three other homeless mothers with children under the age of three. They took their most important possessions, a fishhook and a tiny bit of poison, which gave them two different ways to kill themselves if caught. None of the mothers were planning to return.
Under the cover of darkness, the four mothers and their children crossed the frozen river into China. Almost immediately, they were stopped by a Chinese police patrol. “They are going to send us back,” I thought. “We pleaded with them for mercy. The officers started to make a phone call, but didn’t arrest us. Instead, they called two taxis; one was for the children, the other for us. The police assured us that after the checkpoint, the two cars would meet again. The taxi took a turn, and I never saw my daughter again.”
Next week we will continue with Chun’s story.
Father, how we grieve over the suffering of North Korean Christians like Chun. Thank You that we can lift her up today in gratitude; that You have drawn her to Yourself and provided safety for her. Comfort her, Father, as she prays for her daughter. We also pray for her daughter, confident that wherever she is, You are with her. Be a Father to her, bring her to faith in Christ and raise her up to know and love You. And one day, here on this earth or in heaven, reunite her with her mother. As we consider the sorrow of their separation, we recall how Jesus humbled Himself to set aside the glory due to Him and live a perfect life as a man, sentenced to death on our behalf, and raised again into glory. We look toward that day when the multitude of Christians in North Korea will be reunited in heaven, where You will wipe away every sorrow and tear, and where we will join them in living in perfect joy and harmony in the worship of our Savior. In the name of Jesus, our true hope, Amen.