As I wrote on my last blog post, I had the privilege of joining Pastor Chun for the end of a rescue that was taking place. We flew into Southeast Asia and met up with two North Korean defectors and escorted them on the last leg of their arduous journey to freedom. Before taking them to the embassy, we spent the day with them getting to know them a little bit. It was a reminder that these are real people with real lives and real family, living through a very real trauma. Today I will share with you the story of one of them.
The older of the two we rescued was only 28 years old. Pastor Chun was already in the room speaking with them when I walked in. It was the first time they had ever met an American-an event they would later share was scary, especially because of my height (6′ tall), my “big eyes,” and my beard. Due to generational starvation North Korean’s are very short, and according to North Korean law (I learned) North Korean’s are not allowed to grow beards until they are very old.
Upon meeting her, I was immediately struck by how much her eyes communicated the trauma she had experienced. She was not crying, instead there was a cautiousness in her eyes as she looked at Pastor Chun speaking. It was as though she was able to look at Pastor Chun as he spoke and at the same time observe everyone in the room and what they were doing. She was very aware of who was around her. Though I had just met her, her posture made me believe that she was not naïve to the wickedness of mankind. I had not yet heard her story, but it turned out that my instinct was accurate.
While a young child in North Korea her parents abandoned her. She was born during the years of the most severe famine in North Korea. It was common during this famine for parents to leave their children to fend for themselves. Often they would send the children to other relatives. One North Korean Durihana worker told me that the famine split his family apart. Often whole families died together. She was later adopted and raised by two other parents who were good to her.
In her early twenties, she wanted to find her biological parents. She was able to find her biological father and went to stay with him for a time. He was an alcoholic and as she said, “would sell anything he could to get alcohol.” He apologized for abandoning her, and encouraged her to leave and go to China. She did not want to go to China, but her father was insistent. After staying with him for a few months she described a scene to me that shook me deeply. She was at her biological father’s house one day when a broker showed up (brokers are used to get people across the North Korean border into China). She then said these words… “That was when I knew that I was being sold.”
Sold form her father’s house, in her father’s presence. I don’t know if her father sold her for the money, or if he sold her thinking it was for her own good. That last statement sounds astonishing to the western mind because we don’t have any idea how bad it really is in North Korea. But many fathers have sold their daughters to Chinese men because at least they will have food and a roof over their heads. One North Korean told me that upon arriving in China he was absolutely astonished at what he saw– “the dogs in China eat better than the people of North Korea.” For most North Korean’s being sold to a man as a concubine and treated like property is not near as bad as living in North Korea. Many people do things they would never otherwise do when trying to survive.
She was taken to China and sold into China’s thriving sex-trafficking industry. When Pastor Chun asked her how much she was sold for, “$6,000.00,” she said, without any hesitation. I have yet to hear of a North Korean woman not remembering how much she fetched at a black market auction. She was in China for about five years, during which time she was sold 4 different times. When the women are sold, they are often locked in rooms so they cannot escape, they are made to work out on farms and work in the home when farm work is done. They are usually not treated like family, are often beaten severely. The men who bought them will sometimes prostitute them out as a form of extra income.
Her husband’s family abused her because she was not able to bear children. A botched surgery when she was younger in North Korea has left her with internal problems to this day.
She said she was excited to go to South Korea. If we weren’t speaking about their lives, we were teaching them about God and Christ. At one point while Pastor Chun was sharing the gospel with them, he leaned over to me and said, “we have to share the gospel with them now because it is the only chance we may have.” She said to me as we walked around the city, “when I get to South Korea I want to learn about God. I do not know anything about Him. We were never allowed to learn about Him in the North.”
We took the two to the embassy, and said a quick good-bye. After leaving them, we prayed that they would come to Durihana when they get to South Korea.
She has spent the last five years sold into captivity in a country she does not know to a people whose language she does not speak. Now for the first time ever she has the prospect of freedom before her. Before we departed that day, I asked her: “What do you miss the most about North Korea?”