“Underground Railroad” Aids North Korean Refugees

Pastors in Asian Underground RR Arrested

Christians in China have been risking it all—aiding North Korean refugees in defiance of Chinese authorities. Here, North Koreans worship in a home church in China.

South Korean Pastors Ohn and Lee Apprehended in China


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North Korea by the Numbers

  • #1 on OpenDoors’ current World Watch List—“The Worst Place on Earth for Christians”
  • Up to 500,000 hidden believers
  • Up to 75,000 dissidents currently in prison—many for not showing sufficient reverence to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Christians are particularly vulnerable.
  • 10.5 million (41% of the population) are undernourished under Kim Jong-un’s repressive regime

For the sixteenth consecutive year, North Korea is ranked as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians. Number one on OpenDoors’ World Watch List.

In this totalitarian communist state, Christians are forced to hide their faith from government authorities, neighbors and often, even their own spouses and children…. Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation. Those who attempt to flee to South Korea through China risk execution or life imprisonment, and those who stay behind often fare no better….

Fences and Guards on N Korean side of Yalu River

Fences and guards on North Korean side of Yalu River.

North Koreans often attempt to escape their desperate circumstances by fleeing north into China, braving the waters of the Yalu River. Those discovered by Chinese authorities are returned to North Korea, where they face harsh treatment: life in a labor camp or summary execution.

Seong-Do Ohn’s and Byeong-Gi Lee’s Story

Estimates claim that 1000 South Korean missionaries work in China, many of them forming a sort of “underground railroad” that aids North Korean refugees. In some cases, they help refugees move on to new lives in South Korea and other countries.

In February, 32 South Korean missionaries were expelled from northern China.

South Korean pastors Seong-Do Ohn and Byeong-Gi Lee were recently detained in northern China, accused of helping North Korean defectors leave China. One pastor was arrested with his wife and two children at an airport in the city of Qingdao. The other was arrested along with his wife at his hotel.

The family members were released after interrogation. The pastors are still in custody. According to the NGO Justice for North Korea, “The arrested pastors… insisted that they helped North Korean defectors as they were at risk of being repatriated.”

Please Pray for Seong-Do Ohn’s and Byeong-Gi Lee’s Release

Missionary Prepared to Give Her Life for Trafficked Women

North Korean women are easy prey for traffickers. Lured to China by promised jobs, many are often sold into brothels or forced marriages instead. One missionary who answered a heartfelt call to work with trafficked women spoke anonymously about her experience.

“Dealing with the women is hard…. They are still prisoners in a jail called ‘North Korean women.’ ”

She feels the reason for their brokenness is that they were raised in fear. “They go to pre-school at about five, but they are still forced to watch public executions. Sometimes friends or neighbors are murdered in front of them. Even when they are older and leave the country, they still experience fear….

“Most of them have been abused in North Korea and in China. They feel numb, not even feeling the hurt anymore. They grow up in severe poverty, always going hungry. All of them know what it is like to worry about every meal, to eat from the rubbish and beg for food….

“They had to idolise Kim Il-Sung [founder of modern North Korea and grandfather of current leader, Kim Jong-un]. He’s stuck in everyone’s soul. When people start believing in God, it’s difficult to replace this idol in their hearts.”

But in spite of the difficult work and perpetual fear of arrest, the missionary has no plans to give it up.

“Now I don’t have any fear of death,” she says. “I’m a single woman, and if it’s necessary I don’t mind dying for this cause.”

N Korean Refugee Ae Cha

Ae-Cha’s husband was tortured to death for his faith. She watched her daughter starve in a North Korean labor camp. After seven years in camps, she escaped into China, barely surviving her plunge into the icy Yula River. Today she lives in South Korea and shares her story.

“After making it this far, Father, I’m certain that you’re with me and aiding my escape.”
– Korean Escapee Ae-Cha

 

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Additional Posts from This Stories of Reckless Faith Series

Read More About the “Underground Railroad” in North China

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2 Comments

  1. Tess Icban says:

    Oh Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see that we are on the last days, just like the days of Noah. May your spirit fill the hearts of your people. Thank you Linda, may the Lord continue to guide your heart, mind, soul and hands as you write all these real stories.

    • Tess, thank you so much for your wonderful prayer! It has been really eye-opening to me to research and write these posts. I can’t wait to see these brave Christians in their places of honor at the Supper of the Lamb! Meanwhile, we’ll keep praying…

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