Clothes, Food and Hope for Forsaken North Korean Orphans

October 12, 2011 by Open Doors in General

North Korean Boy

“Nobody expected them, but all of a sudden, these street children just showed up in China”, says Open Doors co-worker Sun-Hi (pseudonym), who works with North Korean refugees in China. “It must mean the situation in North Korea is even more desperate than it used to be if even groups of orphans start to cross the heavily guarded border…”

Sun-Hi doesn’t know where the children cross the river. Neither does she know the background of the kotjebis, as North Koreans call these street children. She does not have to know. The tens of thousands children wandering on the street have all lost their parents, who have either fled, been arrested or killed by the ongoing famine. Kotjebis turn to each other for help, often forming groups that eventually turn into gangs that are involved in ‘criminal’ activities. They steal money, food and others things they consider to be valuable. In a sense, they are the parasites of the “mother country’s society and need to be eradicated.”

The children are not safe in their own country, but neither are they safe in China. Sun-Hi regularly tries to help a group of kotjebis. “The group I visit sometimes moves almost from day to day. They are always on the run,” says Sun-Hi. “Seeing them at their hideout is a terrible sight. The children are between 6 and 20 years old, have dirty faces and are clothed in rags. That is, if they have any clothes. Most children are half naked when they come out of their country. They have sold their shoes and their clothes, except for their underwear. Their filthy mattresses are often soaked wet. I’ve given them plastic so they can make a roof, but the group has grown bigger. The ‘tent’ is not big enough, so I bought a second one. I also brought clothes, food and money. If I hadn’t, they would steal and may get caught by the police. I pray God protects the children, not only from the authorities, but also from criminals who use the young children as smugglers.”

It’s a remarkable group of children, shares Sun-Hi. “The leader is a 17 year old boy. Some are older than him, but he is the strongest and fights them off. He has a good character. He makes sure the smallest children get food as well. And you know what? He makes all the children pray before they eat! On a previous visit to China he was taken care of by a pastor. The boy knows about God.”

Whenever Sun-Hi visits the orphans she tells them one Bible story. “They all listen. But I don’t know what they think of the stories. The children just stay silent and their faces show no expression.”
What breaks Sun-Hi’s heart is that she cannot arrange shelter for the children. “The risks are simply too big. They have lived on the streets for too long. Most likely the orphans will wander around the neighborhood and perhaps even rob people. And what if they are arrested? Perhaps the kotjebis will tell the police who helped them.”

Asking China or, for example, the United Nations to step in is not an option, according to Sun-Hi. “China does not recognize North Koreans as political refugees, even though upon their return, North Korea could arrest the children for betraying their country by illegally crossing the border. The fact that they have been in contact with Christians puts them at an even greater risk. There are few crimes worse than being infected by Christians. Until now, China has been very reluctant to help North Korean refugees. Even children are repatriated.”

So what is their future? A lot of kotjebis die from hunger or disease. The ones that survive their teenage years have no real chance of being integrated back in society. Without proper education and having lost most of their human norms and values, they turn to hard criminal activities like breaking into houses, selling drugs, robbing people, and perhaps even killing. Sun-Hi says, “That is why I tell the kotjebis about the Bible. They may not understand yet, but the Word of God can change them. Where there is Jesus Christ, there is Hope. Also for these ‘forsaken’ children, I pray fervently God will pull them out of this swamp, give them a future and Life.”

Father God, how we weep for these defenseless children, at the mercy of two harsh, pitiless governments. Let Your strong arms of protection guard them. Thank You for Sun-Hi and others who reach out to them. Protect these angels of mercy and grant them resources, wisdom and opportunity to meet the temporal and spiritual needs of these orphans. As Sun-Hi shares the Word of God, use the words to pierce their hardened lives with hope and turn their hearts to You. Amen


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