According to Human Rights Watch, North Korea remains one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world.
The Kim regime allows for no religious freedom, requiring all North Koreans to follow the Juche religion. It uses food and propaganda to keep its people under control – and concentration camps, torture and executions to punish transgressors.
Anyone discovered to be a Christian is considered an enemy of the state. Christians are sent to concentration camps, where they are starved, overworked and tortured.
Members of the community are required to serve as government informants. Those who are aware of Christian activity but do not report it to the government are also punished.
It’s little wonder that many North Korean people go in search of food or freedom.
Defectors know that they are putting their lives on the line because not only do they have to successfully cross the border, but they also have to make it safely out of China. If they are caught in China, they are repatriated back to North Korea, to face the consequences. Their goal is to make it to South Korea, where they automatically become South Korean citizens.
Most escape from North Korea over the eastern part of its border with China, across the icy Tumen River, which winds around the northern tip of North Korea. If they cross successfully, they will be in mainland China. If they are caught, the consequences for them and their families are severe.
Mr and Mrs Bae were underground Christians in North Korea, who successfully made it to South Korea, after crossing the Tumen River into China.
Their story is recounted in the book, These are the Generations, by VOM Korea CEO Eric Foley.
Mr Bae was born and raised in a Christian family who practised their faith for three generations in North Korea. Mr and Mrs Bae met at the Wonsan University of Economics where Mrs Bae was studying teaching. After marrying and starting a family, Mr Bae was sent to prison for evangelising a friend who was having marriage troubles. He spent a year in prison before being miraculously released.
After his release, the state political security department continued to monitor Mr Bae. In fact, the whole family was under close watch. The children were discipled as Christians at home and Mr and Mrs Bae were worried that they would unintentionally reveal the family’s Christian identity.
Mrs Bae said, “They were very innocent. So we decided to escape from North Korea for the future of our children.”
Mr Bae, who left before Mrs Bae and the children said, “I would leave everything and follow God, in order to save everything that I held dear and knew I could not save on my own. So I decided to leave North Korea and go not only to China but all the way to South Korea. By God’s grace I would make a way for my whole family to follow, in the hope that one day, we could save our people too.”
Months later, Mrs Bae, her son and her pregnant daughter fled North Korea into the Tumen River at night … at Christmas.
Mrs Bae recounts, “Finally, we selected a location to cross. The decision came with a lot of concern for me because of my daughter’s pregnancy. In order to cross the river, we’d have to first lower ourselves down a cliff face about 3.5 metres high. My daughter saw my worry and urged me to trust in God – an admonition that became a whole lot easier when we found a rope nearby, which I knew was God’s provision. So my son jumped down. I jumped down. My daughter hesitated not at all, scrambling down without a trace of fear and taking off running in a mad dash with the rest of us once she reached the bottom.
“The river was about 150 metres wide at that point, and we had to just throw ourselves into it and swim across it as fast as we could, ignoring the piercing liquid cold and the possible impact on my daughter’s pregnancy. The last voices I heard in North Korea were the shouts of people in the city crying out, ‘Catch them! Catch them!’ Maybe God didn’t exactly part the river for us, but He restrained those who sought to do us harm until we could safely reach the other side. That was exodus enough.
“Who can forget that first glimpse of the land outside of North Korea? We were greeted by a blaze of Christmas lights. Christmas – I had almost forgotten! The birth of Emmanuel, God with us. Surely God is with us.
“There was no time to stop, stand, reflect, or even thank Him for this, as guards ply both sides of the river. Still, it was impossible not to be struck by the contrast between the panoply of lights on the China side and the impenetrable blackness of the North Korean night. On the far side of the river, the citizens had no idea it was Christmas and certainly no concept of the God who is Emmanuel.”
The family are safe in South Korea. Mrs Bae has struggled for years with declining health. This year has been harder for her than previous ones. She is under a doctor’s care, but we trust you will join us in praying for the intervention of the Greater Physician – and Mrs Bae’s restoration to full health, this Christmas.
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