How to Save a Li f e Cultivating Prayerful Passion for the People of North Korea by Faith McDonnell 8
Dr. Norbert Vollertsen holds pictures that he took of North Korean children suffering from malnutrition. At a rally in Athens in 2004, he and other activists criticized North Korea and China for their treatment of North Korean refugees and called for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters/Corbis)
Today many rest uneasy over the politics and policies of North Korea. They lose sleep over the looming threat of a nuclear Pyongyang, particularly in recent days with the unveiling of North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. They wonder if the mysterious heir Kim Jong-un, third son of present “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il, could possibly be an improvement over his father, or if the regime will go from worse to worst. They follow events in North Korea that affect our national or global security as closely as they can from outside that shut-off nation, deeply concerned over North Korea’s attack on Yeongyeong, a South Korean island, on November 23, 2010. Pyongyang’s bombardment killed two South Korean soldiers and wounded many other soldiers and civilians. But American Christians have not customarily lost sleep over the fate of the people of North Korea. They have given little attention to a country plagued by famine and orchestrated starvation, to untold numbers of people imprisoned, tortured, and executed. But a growing group of activists are living out Marshall’s exhortation. The activists stress the indivisibility of human rights and national security. They have succeeded in arousing Congress and obtaining such legislation as the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 and subsequent Reauthorization Act of 2008. They work doggedly to extend freedom and justice to the entire Korean peninsula. They are literally saving the lives of North Koreans. Under tyrannical Kim Jong-il, the regime in Pyongyang, known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), denies all human rights. The country is little more than a prison camp. Its inhabitants are cut off from the rest of the world, but defectors and escapees are exposing this hell. It is their testimonies that inspire the tireless intercession and daring actions of those who are trying to save lives in North Korea.
e should not sleep, at least not well, until we know that we have done everything we possibly can for our brothers and sisters around the world.” These are the words of Dr. Paul Marshall, the author of the seminal account of the suffering church, Their Blood Cries Out (Thomas Nelson, 1997). Marshall challenges churches in the West not only to defend the persecuted but also to own their accountability to the worldwide Body of Christ.
Kim Il-sung: The “Great Leader” who killed Christians A spiritual revival took place in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, in January 1907 and continued through 1910. According to Mathew Backholer in Revival Fire, 50,000 people came to Christ in the first year of the revival. Backholer quotes missionary John McCune, who wrote in a letter what was taking place: “‘…The work of the Holy Spirit here at the Jangdaehyun Church where revival first broke out would far surpass what we have read about the great revival in Wales and India…’”1 In the wake of revival, Pyongyang became known as the “Jerusalem of Asia.” But the thriving Christian community suffered greatly in the succeeding years. Persecution began in 1910, when Japan annexed the Korean peninsula and mandated emperor worship. Then at the end of World War II, Soviettrained Kim Il-sung, the father of current leader Kim Jongil, imposed communism. Kim Il-sung attempted to rid the country of Christians.
Between 1945 and 1950 the DPRK government executed or arrested all of the country’s known religious leaders. A class system, seongbun, was created to categorize all North Koreans. Seongbun placed the surviving Christians and other religious families in the lowest, “hostile” category. They were either relocated or sent to forced labor camps for political prisoners. The government replaced Christianity and other faiths with a religious, political, social, and economic ideology called Juche. Juche, also known as “Kimilsungism,” is a bizarre cultish worship of the late “Great Leader.” According to the ideology, there is no god but Kim Il-sung. Although the older Kim died in 1994, he is still considered North Korea’s “Eternal President.” Juche also attributes divine powers to the “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il. In Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick tells how North Korean citizens are indoctrinated with stories of the miraculous nature of Kim Jong-il. “Kim Jong-il’s birth was said to have been heralded by a radiant star in the sky and the appearance of a beautiful double rainbow,” says Demick. “A swallow descended from heaven to sing of the birth of a “'general who will rule the world.'”2 Demick explains that in North Korea, children celebrate the birthdays of the Kims but not their own birthdays. Conditions for Christians today Although the regime outlawed Christian faith, it declares that it allows for religious freedom. This is demonstrated to tourists and other foreigners (including Western government and church officials) with four “show churches” in Pyongyang. In the 2009 US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom, foreigners who visited one of these officially sanctioned churches, the Bongsu Church, stated that North Korean worshippers are bused in, and no children are present. “Church services appeared staged and contained political content supportive of the regime, in addition to religious themes,” they said.3 According to the report Thank You, Father Kim Il-sung, produced by
the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), there are three different categories of Christians in North Korea. The first category is described as “old society,” pre-WWII Christians and their children. They are members of the state-sponsored Korean religious federations and worship at statesanctioned churches or home worship centers whose services can only take place with Workers Party members or police in attendance. The second category is post-WWII Christians and their children. These Christians worship privately and do not participate in state-sanctioned religion. But other North Korean followers of Christ are not in government-sponsored show churches and are not “old society.” Some experts say that as many as 200,000 secret believers live in North Korea, most of whom became Christians in China or through contact with Chinese or South Korean Christians. They practice their faith under constant threat of imprisonment or execution. Thank You, Father Kim Il-sung interviewed two former members of the North Korean political police who defected. They stated that their work included “hunting down such Christians” and that the purpose of the “brutally coercive interrogations” of North Koreans who have been forcibly repatri-
DIG DE EPER In the ﬁlm Crossing (Ke uro s ing, 2008), a North Korean e x - s o cc e r player is forced to sneak into China to buy medicine for his ailing wife. Landing in trouble across the border, he ﬂees to South Korea. But now he can’t return to his village, and hence begins a titanic struggle to get home.
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Hiding is a ﬁlm that exposes the life of North Korean refugees hiding in China. You can host a screening of this ﬁlm at the website of Liberty in North Korea (LinkGlobal.org), a youthdriven human rights advocacy organization.
In Escaping North Korea (Rowman & Littleﬁeld, 2010), American Mike Kim, who worked with refugees on the Chinese border for four years, recounts their experiences of enduring famine, sextraﬃcking, and torture, as well as the inspirational stories of those who overcame tremendous adversity to escape.
Terrified North Korean refugees, during an escape to China.
ated from China is to identify North Koreans involved with transgressed because of the late Kim Il-sung’s law that foreign Christians and missions.4 the seed of enemies of the state “must be eliminated through three generations.” Considering the brutal condiNot all North Koreans who have awakened to the reality tions of North Korea’s prison camps, execution may of their country become Christians. Others, disillusioned with have been the more merciful punishment. Juche, have turned to Shamanism and to fortune tellers. But All North Koreans live under the continual and arbia former North Korean police official interviewed in the trary threat of imprisonment. According to the US USCIRF’s A Prison Without Bars said that these other reliCommittee for Human gions do not concern the North A drawing by a North Korean defector who was imprisoned Rights in North Korea Korean government as much as (HRNK) an estimated Christianity. They fear that 200,000 men, women, and Christianity will defeat “the One and children are being held in just Only Ideology–Kimilsungism,” he five of North Korea’s 12 said.5 prison labor camps. Unknown The North Korean government numbers of additional prisonfears the Bible as well. In July 2009, ers are in other known and Ri Hyon Ok, a 33-year-old Christian unknown prisons–some mother of three was sentenced to reported to be completely death for distributing copies of the underground. About 30 Bible and “spying” for South Korea forced labor camps are also and the United States. (She had in operation. In the last three decades, some 400,000 probably had contact with Christians from these countries.) have died in this gulag. Ri was publicly executed in the northwestern city of HRNK’s 2003 report, The Hidden Gulag: Exposing Ryongchon, near the Chinese border.6 North Korea’s Prison Camps, includes groundbreaking According to the Investigative Commission on Crimes high-resolution satellite photographs and the testimonies against Humanity, on the day after Ri’s execution, her parof dozens of former political prisoners and defectors. ents, husband, and three small children were sent to a The research confirms that the nightmarish stories of political prison camp. The North Korean government punformer prisoners are not exaggerated. The details in the ishes three generations of the family of the one who has
close-up photos correspond exactly with details from the witnesses about the camps. Most North Koreans are imprisoned for trumped-up political “crimes.” Such offenses include reading a foreign newspaper, singing a South Korean pop song, or “insulting the authority” of the North Korean leadership. One woman went to prison for leaving the mandatory photos of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on the wall of her burning house when fleeing the fire. Another was incarcerated just because she was the classmate of a former mistress of Kim Jong-il and the government wanted to erase all record of the woman.7 Testimonies of former prisoners in The Hidden Gulag provide other examples of the flagrantly unjust imprisonment of innocent citizens. One such testimony included in the HRNK report is that of Kang Chol Hwan, the famous author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag. Kang was 9 years old when he was taken to Yoduk, North Korea’s most infamous prison camp, with the rest of his family. His Korean-Japanese grandfather, who had made a fortune in Japan’s casino industry, voluntarily returned to Pyongyang to support Kim Il-sung in building socialism. The regime repaid him by seizing his bank accounts, cars, and furniture. Kang’s grandfather “disappeared” one day. Officials declared that he had committed some unspecified act of high treason, and they arrested the rest of his family. Kang was imprisoned until age 19, when he was inexplicably released. He eventually escaped from North Korea.8 According to multiple reports, Christians receive the harshest torture and the worst forms of execution in the prison system. A former DPRK prison guard testified before the US Congress, confirming the regime’s intense hatred of Christians. He recounted one instance in which a woman was kicked repeatedly and left with her injuries unattended for days because a prison guard overheard her praying for a child.
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At a rally in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul, activists protest the Chinese government's deportation of North Korean defectors. (Jo Yong_Hak/Reuters/Corbis)
According to North Korean escapee Soon Oak Lee, the prison guards would publicly humiliate Christians by refusing to give them any clothes. “They were considered animals,” she said. Soon testified that in the prison factories they killed Christians “by pouring molten steel on them.” She explained that believing in God instead of Kim Il-sung was the biggest crime in the eyes of the officials.9 No mercy: China’s treatment of North Korean escapees Many North Koreans are in prison camp because they attempted to escape the country and have been forcibly repatriated from China. Starvation and persecution have motivated over 300,000 North Koreans to flee to China. Many never make it across the border. They are so weak and terrified that they stumble and never get up, drowning or freezing to death in the shallow but icy waters of the Tumen River. Those who do reach China live in hiding, in terror of being discovered by the Chinese authorities, who will send them back to certain imprisonment and quite likely death.
Spea king Out The following letter was sent in October 2008 to Senator McCain and then-Senator Obama by the Korean American Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom (KCC), an umbrella group of almost 3,000 Korean-American churches and pastors: We write as pastors of the Korean American Church Coalition who are grateful for the blessings of democracy that our beloved country has bestowed upon us. In exercising our democratic rights–and obligations–we and our fellow worshippers respectfully seek your views on the questions posed by this letter. We begin by expressing our concern with policies that ignore three present developments that jeopardize the prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula. They are: ★ the abhorrent record of the Kim Jong-il regime towards our brothers and sisters, the people of North Korea; ★ the mass transfer of North Korean refugees by the government of China to the regime’s concentration camps–action taken in clear violation of China’s UN treaty obligations; and ★ the silence of the United Nations towards those treaty violations and towards the regime’s human rights record. We believe that [current US] policies ignore the clear lessons of history and neither serve American values or interests. We further believe that offering money and legitimacy to the regime solely in exchange for its nuclear promises and concessions will invite future and increasingly grave weaponsrelated crises on the Korean Peninsula and beyond… From this day forward, we intend to follow the examples of the American Jewish community’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry and the African American community’s campaign against the former apartheid regime. Guided by those models, we will call for policies that no longer abandon our North Korean brothers and sisters and no longer ignore the “Helsinki” human rights principles of the North Korea Human Rights Act that we believe offer the best hope for peacefully resolving the crisis produced by the character and conduct of the North Korean regime. We take to heart something else we have learned from the anti-apartheid and Soviet Jewry campaigns. In America, a community’s standing with its fellow citizens does not come from economic or political success. Such respect is only earned when a community stands for something more than increasing its personal wellbeing–as when it speaks out for oppressed brothers and sisters whose voices would not otherwise be heard. We are moved by this lesson and celebrate it as a source of America’s greatness. We thus write because issues of US policy towards the North Korean regime go beyond our present affiliations as Democrats or Republicans; evaluating your response to this letter, or your failure to do so, will be a critical consideration as members of our community cast our votes in the coming election and as we offer our loyalties–now and in the long term–to America’s political parties. Prayerfully but firmly, and on human and not “political” grounds, we thus seek your views on matters about which we are solemnly pledged to no longer to be silent. 13
Activists burn a North Korean flag and pictures of Kim Jong-il during a rally north of Seoul. (Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters/Corbis)
Although international human rights groups have for years urged China to grant political asylum to escapees, North Korea’s fellow communist country refuses to create and implement a legal process through which North Koreans can obtain refugee status. Instead China identifies those who flee North Korea as economic migrants and forcibly repatriates them. This is a violation of Beijing’s duty as a party to the UN International Refugee Convention of 1951 and the 1967 Protocol, which state that people who have a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country are not to be repatriated. The Chinese government even refuses to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have access to the border area between
North Korea and China in order to investigate these abuses. Without any civil rights or protection by the government, North Koreans in China are extremely vulnerable. Many of the children, especially orphans, end up on the street. And it is estimated that as many as 90 percent of North Korean female refugees become victims of sexual trafficking in China. China’s forced abortion and sterilization policies have resulted in a lack of women for Chinese men to marry. This adds to the demand for girls and women supplied by sex traffickers. Some are led to China by “guides” promising a better life. Others are sold into prostitution that is carried
Reaching OUt 318 Partners (318.iebee.com) rescues North Korean women who, having crossed the Tumen River into China, are sold as prostitutes, sexual slaves, and rural brides. The ministry receives rescue requests for trafﬁcked women from several diﬀerent sources, including North Korea Refugee Women’s Coalition in Seoul, missionaries in China, NGOs founded and led by North Korean defectors, and news reporters. Since 2008 they have successfully rescued 66 North Korean refugees.
North Korean Freedom Coalition (NKFreedom. org) is comprised of international groups that provide humanitarian relief inside North Korea and that rescue North Korean refugees. The coalition sponsors the an14 PRISM Magazine
nual North Korea Freedom Week in Washington, DC, to raise political and humanitarian awareness.
PSALT (PSALTNK.com) works with and supports networks of organizations and individual missionaries serving in China and North Korea to help those in need by attending to both physical and spiritual needs. Through their networks, PSALT has developed a number of projects for orphanages, shelters, and underground gospel ministries to which sponsors can earmark direct support. PSALT conducts a limited number of short-term mission opportunities on the China/North Korea border to explore and learn, and to support and serve refugees and faithful believers in the area.
out in bars and karaoke rooms in rural Northeast China. access to North Korea never before (or since) granted to And some are resold three, four, or more times. A 2009 Westerners. HRNK publication, Lives for Sale: Personal Accounts of As Vollertsen drove in rural North Korea, he saw vilWomen Fleeing North Korea to China, offers testimonies lages with no sanitation or running water and no medical of 54 such women interviewed in China. It makes recomcare. He visited orphanages full of dying children and witmendations for policy changes that can protect the rights nessed young boys and girls forced to work through the of these abused women.10 North Koreans who are caught night to build a 40-kilometer “Youth Hero Motorway” and to practice dance routines to honor the egomaniacal Kim by Chinese officials and repatriated are regarded as “traiJong-il. Leaving the country in 2000 to become an advotors of the state” by the regime. They are imprisoned, cate for the North Korean people, Vollertsen carried slick, tortured, and may be publicly executed to serve as a deterfull-color brochures from Pyongyang’s casinos and nightrent to others who would dare to try escaping. Repatriated clubs with photos of tables laden with foods from all over women who are pregnant are usually subjected to forced the world. The German doctor was enraged by the high abortion, especially if the father of the baby is Chinese. life enjoyed by Kim and his elites while an estimated 3 milIn a recent hearing held by Congress’ Tom Lantos lion North Koreans have died of starvation and malnutriHuman Rights Commission, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) distion-related causes since the 1990s.12 The international played drawings made by North Korean escapees and defectors, formerly inmates in the prison camps. One community has committed more than $2 billion in food aid drawing done by a woman who had been trafficked in to North Korea over the past decade, but defectors report China, then returned pregnant to North Korea, showed the that most of the food aid is given to the armed forces means of abortion used in the North Korean prison camps. instead of those for whom it was intended. As a result, 42 A wooden board is placed on the stomach of the pregnant percent of North Korean children suffer from chronic malwoman, and two other prisoners are forced to jump up and nutrition, resulting in drastic height and weight differences down on either end of when compared with North Korean defectors and anti-North Korea activists release balloons carrying the board until the baby children from South leaflets and North Korean banknotes towards the north at the Imjinkak pavilion, is dead. As US Korea.13 near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. The activists demand Representative Chris The 2004 BBC improvements in North Korea's human rights and the release of South Koreans abducted by the North. (Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters/Corbis) Smith (R-NJ) said at documentary Access that hearing, “The horto Evil provided ror of life in North Korea another shocking revexceeds our comprehenelation. Two British sion.” 11 filmmakers received permission to enter North Korea to get Exposing the true the regime’s reaction North Korea to being called part of A German doctor was the “Axis of Evil” by one of the first activPresident George W. ists to help Americans Bush. But what the comprehend the horror filmmakers discovered of life in North Korea in North Korea only and mobilize advocates. served to justify In 1999, Dr. Norbert President Bush’s Vollertsen was in North description. Korea with Cap Anamur, The filmmakers, the German Emergency Ewa Ewert and Doctors Union. While Olenka Frankiel, working as an ER docundeterred by the tor, Vollertsen donated propaganda organized skin for a graft for a for them by the North burn victim. The North Korean regime, manKorean government aged to interview sevawarded his humanitarieral defectors, who anism with a “Friendship revealed that North Medal,” a car, and a VIP Korea conducts deadpassport. These gifts ly experiments on afforded him the kind of
prisoners with gas chambers and chemicals. A former prison camp security chief who had watched parents and children die by poisonous gas injected into a small glass cubicle, and a doctor who had actually performed the experiments, were the witnesses. They indicated that those prisoners the regime considered “enemies of the state,” including Christians, were selected for the experiments. The former prison camp official, Kwon Hyuk, said of watching a Christian family perish in the gas chamber, “The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save the kids by doing mouth-tomouth breathing.”14 Doctors and scientists observed the whole process from above the gas chamber, taking notes, the defectors explained. Documents smuggled out by defectors appear to reveal how methodical the chemical experiments were. One stamped “top secret” and “transfer letter” was dated February 2002. The name of the victim was Lin Hun-hwa. He was 39. The text reads: “The above person is transferred from...camp number 22 for the purpose of human experimentation of liquid gas for chemical weapons.” Soon after the release of the documentary, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote scathingly15 of the West’s failure to act on this information. A year after the gas chamber revelations, North Korean activists and the Japanese media produced the first-ever photographic evidence of public executions in North Korea.16 Courageous dissidents, among the hundreds of local people rounded up and forced to watch the executions, secretly recorded the March 2005 death of two refugees caught trying to escape to China. The film shows North Korean authorities setting up posts to which the men will be tied and shot. After what can only be described as a mockery of a trial, the men are pronounced guilty and dispatched immediately, their bodies crumpling as the shots are fired. Advocates fighting for change As these atrocities have been exposed, advocacy for human rights in North Korea has been growing. Human rights organizations, both Christian and secular, as well as Christian advocacy groups for the persecuted church, ministries to combat sex trafficking, intrepid individuals, and watchdog organizations are all working to bring freedom to North Korea. All of these organizations and approaches understand that interaction with and influence on South Koreans is essential. Many South Koreans long for their fellow Koreans to live in peace, freedom, and prosperity and want to reunite with family and friends across the demilitarized zone. But many others, understanding the economic and social upheaval caused by the fall of the Berlin Wall, fear the economic repercussions of a collapse of the regime in North Korea. For many years the government of the Republic of South Korea, under Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, practiced a “Sunshine Policy” of
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Protestors at a North Korean Freedom rally in DC.
engagement and appeasement towards Kim Jong-il’s regime. This policy emphasized economic cooperation and did not challenge human rights abuses. But silence and continual funneling of monetary aid propped up the Kim Jong-il regime and may well have prolonged its miserable existence at a time when it was ripe for collapse. The current president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, has been a long-time opponent of the Sunshine Policy. He believes that North Korea should only be rewarded after it has abandoned its nuclear ambitions and improved human rights. Advocates and North Korean defectors/refugees are no longer encouraged to remain silent about the truth of the situation in North Korea. Some American advocates believe that the most effective means of transforming North Korea is by transforming US political policy. Human rights and religious freedom activist Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute (see PRISM's interview with him on page 24), who has been working with North Korean refugees as well as Korean American churches for a number of years, decries the “human rights neutral” approach of the US government in dealing with Pyongyang, in which subsidy and legitimacy are offered to the regime in exchange for its weapons policy promises. The North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004,17 in the passing of which Horowitz played a major role, has not yet been able to transform US policy in this regard. Horowitz urges a “Helsinki” approach, explained in A Statement of Principles Regarding the Suffering People of North Korea and the Threats Posed by Its Regime to World Security,18 a document for which Horowitz gathered endorsement by some 100 religious, human rights, national security, and civic leaders. The Helsinki approach links human rights and national security issues in US policy, to ensure “that the United States' negotiation agenda will always include, at the highest level of priority, such human rights issues as family unification, rule of law development, religious freedom, prison monitoring, and needs-based food distribution.” As with the Helsinki Watch, which monitored and promoted the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords in the Soviet Union during the Cold War,
Protestors marching to the US Capitol include North Korean refugees, Korean War veterans from the US and Canada, and Japanese who had family members abducted by North Korea, and other supporters of freedom in North Korea.
this approach focuses on enabling and supporting North Korean defectors and escapees as much as possible. While Horowitz focuses on the big picture, another activist for North Korea, Mike Kim, is “restoring refugees one soul at a time.” Kim is the founder of Crossing Borders, a faith-based ministry that works with North Korean refugees who have crossed the border into China. He is the author of Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country.19 The book tells of Kim’s own four years working with refugees on the Chinese border, and recounts the stories of the North Koreans that Kim came to know. Another effort to affect US policy is the North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC). The coalition has over 60 member organizations representing millions of American, Korean (both North and South), and Japanese citizens. It also has unlisted members that provide humanitarian relief inside North Korea and that rescue North Korean refugees. The NKFC is credited with being a driving force behind the passage of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 and still works to ensure that the Act is fully implemented. Since 2004, the NKFC has sponsored North Korea Freedom Week in Washington, DC. The annual event includes a large Capitol Hill rally, prayer vigils, demonstrations, art exhibits, and meetings. Participants from Japan and South Korea, as well as North Korean defectors and refugees, join activists and members of Congress for the events. In 2010, NKFC Chairman, Dr. Suzanne Scholte, and Korean pastors and politicians, moved the event to South Korea for the first time to empower what Scholte called “the 17,000-strong North Korean defectors in South Korea” and to help South Koreans connect with fellow Koreans north of the demilitarized zone.20 Freedom Week organizers
launched balloons over the border holding messages of encouragement for the North Koreans. Whereas the NKFC is heavily populated with middle-aged activists, LiNK, or “Liberty in North Korea,” is young–students and other young people who are taking leadership in human rights advocacy. LiNK says of itself, “LiNK exists so that one day the crisis in North Korea will not. We operate under a mandate that does not allow us to remain silent about the human rights and refugee crisis that is a result of this emergency. We educate, protect, advocate for, provide for, and empower the North Korean people so that one day they will have the opportunity to live in true freedom.”21 LiNK maintains safe houses for North Koreans in China and Southeast Asia. The houses protect refugees but also prepare them for their next steps to freedom. When refugees are physically, mentally, and emotionally able, LiNK works with other courageous organizations and pastors to bring them to free countries that will accept them or grant them safe access to a third country. LiNK’s new campaign, “The Hundred,” is working to bring to safety 100 of these refugees hiding in hostile countries such as China. They have already rescued 20 refugees. At the end of Their Blood Cries Out, Paul Marshall warns that concern for persecuted Christians “should be part of western churches’ daily life...not a frenetic short-term focus.”22 And the activists working not just for persecuted Christians but for all of the oppressed people of North Korea understand this need. They are fighting to make things better in North Korea, to see an entire nation transformed by freedom and justice. But in the meantime, they are staying up nights, saving lives. Editor’s note: due to space limitations, the endnotes for this article have been posted at www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/prism-endnotes)
Faith McDonnell is the director of religious liberty programs at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. She is also director of the IRD’s Church Alliance for a New Sudan. She writes and speaks on the subject of the persecuted church and has organized rallies and vigils for Sudan in front of the White House, the State Department, the Canadian Embassy, and the Sudanese Embassy. She has drafted legislation on religious persecution for the Episcopal Church and for the US Congress. She is the author, along with Grace Akallo, of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).
any of the good groups that you mention in your main article (see page 14). Adult North Korean refugees, despite tragic conditions, can manage to survive the situation in China. A woman, for example, even when she is trafficked, can live as a housewife in the household that bought her. Men, even when their labor is extorted, can still eat better in China than back home. But children and old people do not have this ability. Because they cannot survive in China on their own, they are in the most miserable condition and have no future. They should be brought to South Korea or the US, but brokers are expensive, so Courageous North Korean defector Jinhye Jo we need money to rescue them. I also want you to be aware of the living conditions for orphans urges Christians to welcome refugees and speak inside North Korea. I myself was once imprisoned in a “shelter” for out against an evil regime. children. These shelters are like prisons, with horrible buildings and Jinhye Jo escaped North Korea into China three times–and was scarce food and fuel. The regime confines the children because it does repatriated each time–over an eight-year period. She made her not want these vagabonds seen on the street where they will ruin the fourth and final escape, along with social order of their “paradise.” Many of the her mother and sister, in 2006. Two children starve to death or die during escape months later, she came under the attempts. According to a source in North Korea, protection of the UNHCR. She 78,000 children are confined in “shelters” in arrived in the US as a refugee in Chungjin, Moosan, Hoeryung, Hyesan. These 2008 and has since become a comare all northern provinces, which are relatively pelling witness to the oppressive better off due to the trade with China; inland regime of Kim Jong-il, participating children might be suffering more. What we can in a hunger strike in front of the do is buy orphans on the North Korean street Chinese embassy, speaking at unithrough brokers for 300-500 won (about versities such as Harvard and US$0.33-US$0.55) per person. We need to Georgetown, and testifying before do this on a large scale. You might think it is Congress. human trafficking, but from my point of view, having experienced it, coming to China is much PRISM: What can US Christians do better than starving to death in the prison-like to support the people of North Korea? shelters, even when it looks like human trafficking to outsiders’ eyes. Jinhye Jo: They can start by helping North Korean refugees in various PRISM: What foreign policy actions would you ways. The most urgent need is money. like to see the US undertake in relation to North Korea? North Koreans wandering in China can be divided into three groups: those who want to settle in China permanently, those who JJ: I would like to see the US accept North Korean refugees on as are looking to acquire medicine and money in China but want to go large a scale as it accepts refugees from other countries. North Korean back to North Korea, and those who seek permanent resettlement refugees work very hard and assimilate fast. It takes only two to three in a third country like South Korea or the US. Korean-Chinese defec- years, especially for young people. tors used to help North Korean refugees with food, clothes, medicine, I believe human rights advocacy programs have a direct and sigand even money, but not anymore. Now they drive out refugees or nificant impact on refugees’ lives. In 1994, in the early stage of the actively look for them and report them to police in exchange for refugee problem, North Korean policemen treated arrested refugees, financial reward (about 2000 RMB or US$300) or to avoid punish- called “betrayers,” cruelly. They made holes in the refugees’ nostril and ment themselves. So now refugees inside China are in even more peril thumbs and put strings through them. They also cut the tendons of than before. For these people, help with food and clothing, which the ankles so that the refugees couldn’t reattempt escape. When this was a big help in the past, is not nearly as important as financial help was made known to the Chinese, Falun Gong people protested, and to reach safety, because of the evermore strict inspection by the the Chinese government responded with warnings to North Korean police on the streets and in border areas. The solution is money, leaders, who then punished the policemen. which is much easier to hide (it can be swallowed), because people When I was imprisoned for 15 months in China, having been can bribe the border guards or policemen if caught. Money can also caught and awaiting repatriation, there was a period of several months help those who struggle to come to South Korea to hire a guide. with no new imprisonment of refugees. We wondered why, and later Even after resettlement in South Korea, many refugees are in debt we discovered that the first international campaign about North Korean to the brokers who guided them to freedom. If you want to help human rights had swept over several countries. Thanks to that presrefugees, the best way is to raise funds and send them to China via sure on the Chinese government, they withheld the repatriation process.
"I don’t understand why the US is so afraid of North Korea"
18 PRISM Magazine
Thus from my experience, human rights advocacy has a direct impact or that we were a family, because that meant death. We were imprison refugees’ lives. oned in separate rooms. Without warning, the police would approach each of us and ask questions, trying to find an inconsistent answer. PRISM: What about providing humanitarian and development assistance But even though the three of us never discussed what we would say inside North Korea, such as providing medical or agricultural aid? in advance, what I told interrogators matched perfectly with what my mother said, and the same was true of my sister. Moreover, the other JJ: In principle, I agree with attempts to help North Korea, because prisoners, most of whom knew of us and how we helped refugees get it is my country. But I am fiercely against any aid–including medical to South Korea, closed their mouths for us as if they had all made a or educational services–because it only helps Kim Jong-il’s regime to pact. That is why we could be rescued by Pastor Yoon Yi Hwan’s linger. I know that the original intention of the UN or South Korea is $10,000 bribe. If our activities in China had been revealed, the money to help the people, but it ends up only enhancing the regime. I know could not have saved us. this from my own observation and experience. At that time, I constantly remembered Job’s story in the Bible, North Korea now has no farming machines, so it is impossible to how he never betrayed God in the worst situation, and also Daniel, farm. Thus international food aid is either used to feed the army or for whom God closed the mouths of lions. I had never before felt so sold for money to build weapons. When I was caught by the guards sure of God’s existence and was so happy staying in the prison. while crossing the Duman River in Chilsung, Musan, I was sent to a small military unit to stay overnight. That night I heard the general PRISM: How do defectors like you adjust to life in freedom? make an announcement that they would have a feast with a whole pig that evening. The meat was bought by exchanging rice they JJ: My family was lucky to be loved a lot by pastors and other church received from the UN that day. That was a small local military unit, leaders. That love did heal us and opened our minds. We felt that but they were directly supplied with UN rice. During all three nights God called us and that he himself has found us and stayed with us, that I stayed there, they had a big party with drinking and eating. so we had less stress and less hurt. But there are still moments that Then I was transferred to the police station of Musan and was released are hard to endure, for example when people consciously or unconafter a month. When I went back to the town, no one among the sciously distinguish me as North Korean, separating me out from residents knew that the UN had sent rice. South Koreans. A little while ago, at a lunch at church, someone asked Therefore, I am really against the aid, humanitarian or not, as long me, “Does the rice awarded from Great Leader Kim Il-sung taste as Kim Jong-il’s regime stays in power. The better thing is to help better than this rice?” It was just a joke, but I felt so insulted and got those who secretly work to destroy the regime, or to keep all the hurt deeply. resources to prepare for the aftermath of Kim’s collapse. Once North Koreans come to the US or South Korea, they want I don’t understand why the US and other countries are so afraid to forget their life in the North and are eager to fit in. In my case, of North Korea. If you go into the country, you’ll see that it is nothing. when others recognize me as a North Korean, I feel defeated and Every aspect of the society is corrupted and can be broken at any think, “I did not copy South Koreans well enough.” I talked about this time. But it seems they believe that the North Korean regime is with my refugee friend, and she said, “That is why I don’t hang out impossible to destroy. I heard a group of people was arrested while with many refugees. When I am with other refugees, it reminds me attempting to bomb a statue of Kim Il-sung. Lots of young people of who I am and other people around me will also recognize it.” want to do this kind of activity, but they need money. Support them rather than send aid. I believe a new generation of people is coming Special thanks to Defense Forum Foundation President Suzanne up, and they are different from the older ones. Scholte for her help in obtaining this interview and to Ana Jang for her translation services. PRISM: Please tell us how, having survived so many ordeals, you understand Christ’s statement in Matthew 5: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and Send a love letter! falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Free North Korea Radio is the only radio program run by North Korean defectors. For their “Letters from America program,” JJ: My family was destined to be executed after repatriation because the Defense Forum Foundation (DefenseForum.org) records we believed in God, attended church events, and helped others go to real letters from Americans expressing their concerns and hopes South Korea. On the day of repatriation–August 16, 2006–I felt so for the people of North Korea. These are read aloud and broadproud to believe in God. I felt like I was part of a royal family. I had cast into North Korea with a Korean voice-over translation. The already experienced repatriation three times, but this last time, even purpose of the program is to give North Koreans a true picture though I was sure I would be killed because I was a serious “criminal,” of the American people, because the Kim Jong-il regime raises I felt so comfortable. North Koreans from childhood to hate Americans as “Yankee I could see how actively God was working to rescue us. We were imperialist wolves” who occupy South Korea and prevent unificaimprisoned in a police office in North Korea for one month, where tion. To participate, simply email your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org seven policemen interrogated and tortured my mother, younger sister, and write “For Letters from America” in the subject line. and myself separately. We could not reveal that we were Christians