When Death Is 'Not Dying'
Photo: North Korean prisoners have to carry a bucket full of excrements and mud to fertilize the land. This drawing was made by a former prisoner who was detained in the Chongori prison.
What if Sun-Hi* had never met those young, North Korean refugees? They may still have been alive today. They also would not have met Christ.
Several weeks ago, Open Doors reported the death of two North Korean Christians. One was killed while attempting to cross the Chinese border; the other succumbed to torture and starvation in one of North Korea’s concentration camps. These cases are no incidents, but they give a voice to the many suffering North Koreans and especially to the many secret believers among them. That is why our co-worker Sun-Hi likes to share her story, even though it hurts her. She relies on her relationship with the Lord and our prayers to continue doing her work. "Truth be told, when I first heard that these two men had died, I wanted to quit my ministry. Both were under 35 years old."
Sun-Hi is one those faithful Christians working with North Korean refugees by giving them financial support, pastoral care and Bible education. That is how she got to know the Christians. For the protection of their relatives she cannot be too specific about their background, nor about locations or exact dates. "The first guy came to a safe house in China with a friend. Both received food. He said he wanted to come back, because he wanted to know why everyone said that Christians were such bad people."
"Christians are not bad people," Sun-Hi explained him. The man had to go home soon and Sun-Hi asked him to return to China if and when he could. Perhaps he could earn some money. Sun-Hi also gave him 2,000 yuan, roughly 200 American dollars. "His parents were old and very poor. Like almost all North Koreans he had a temper, but he was very grateful for the support in China. I think his plan was to bribe someone in North Korea so he could get a better status and have a better future. He even considered going to university."
There was little time to share the Gospel with this North Korean. Sun-Hi did tell him about the way to salvation and gave him a short introduction on God and the Bible. The man returned to China and kept his promise. He came back a second time. "Now we had the opportunity to go into more detail and he really wanted to put his faith in Christ. I baptized him. He wanted to share the Gospel with his family. He had also met a girl, whom he wanted to introduce to his parents. If they approved, he wanted to marry her."
For the third time, the man went back to his mother country. It was the first time he could not get away with it. On his way home he was arrested somewhere. "I found out some time later", shares Sun-Hi. "I visited a fellow worker in China and I noticed a list. Two names were scratched. His was one of them. The worker told me that our young disciple had been severely tortured in prison and most likely had confessed everything, including that he had become a Christian. He was sent to a labor camp and died not long after his arrival."
Sun-Hi also knew the other name that was striked through. It belonged to another refugee. One who had never been very successful in life. Even though he was not the oldest son, he was kind of the head of the family. He used to go to the market and try to sell stuff. However, he did not earn much. So he chopped wood in the mountains. Again he did not succeed to bring in money with this trade. His father blamed him for it.
"The young man did not have many options left," says Sun-Hi. "He came from one of the poorest areas in North Korea. To survive he had to go to China and smuggle things back to his country. He went to China several times, but each time to no avail. He came back with no money at all. Of course he had to bribe the guards so he could safely cross the river. They wanted to be paid. When he came back with nothing they told him to search for Christians. Christians would give him money."
After some time he met Chinese Christians who introduced him to Sun-Hi. "I spent 2,5 days with him, explaining the Gospel and the Bible. Those days were pretty difficult. He just could not focus, because he never had had any formal education. At some point he sighed, ‘This is harder than wood chopping.’ The words were too unfamiliar to him. Still, he said he wanted to follow Christ."
Sun-Hi suggested him to come back. He promised he would. "He was desperate to share the good news with his family, but he wanted to know more and understand better."
His eagerness to receive more Bible study eventually led to the ending of his life. Sun-Hi does not know what happened. "My best guess is that he bribed one of the border guards, but that he was shot by another guard when he crossed the river."
Sun-Hi tells the story rather matter-of-factly. "I am holding back my emotions. However it has been very hard. Like I said, I wanted to quit my ministry after I heard about their deaths. It was devastating news. I can’t stop thinking: ‘What if I had never met them?’ Both could have lived a little longer. I also realize that now they are with Christ. At least for them, death is not dying."
*For security reasons we have changed Sun-Hi’s real name.
- Please pray that Sun-Hi will be able to continue to do her invaluable work. Pray that fear will not get hold on her.
- Pray for the families of the deceased Christians. The two men died because they wanted to be equipped to share the Gospel with their relatives. Pray that God will save those family members.
- Pray for the countless others who are laying down their lives for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in North Korea.
Photo: North Korean prisoners receive ideological training in a prison labor camp.
Photo: This picture shares the borders of three neighbouring countries- North Korea, China and Russia.
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