“Christianity is like a drug. Missionaries are gathering people so they can drink their blood. North Korea is the best and wealthiest country; everywhere else is suffering a lot more.”
With propaganda like this, it is no wonder Stephen had no desire to seek Christianity or leave North Korea.
Since the ‘March of Suffering,’* which started in 1994, there has been widespread famine. In order to survive, people resort to eating bark, flowers, grass and seeds. Many North Koreans have died of starvation.
Driven by a desperate need for food, Stephen decided to escape North Korea, crossing the Chinese border. He was afraid of what lay beyond the border due to what he had been taught, and knew that if he was caught by Chinese police he would be sent back to North Korea and executed.
Though we cannot show his face, Stephen drew pictures to illustrate his incredible journey to faith.
Curiosity about church
“It was by chance,” Stephen told us, describing the day he met an older lady in China. She gave him the address of a church and told him to go there. Stephen explained, “I was very fearful because of what I had been told about Christianity. I didn’t want to go, but there was still a curiosity inside me.”
He decided to go.
Stephen didn’t know it, but this church had a heart for North Korean defectors and was even reaching people inside North Korea. The pastor and a church leader came and met him. “I was given a Bible and invited to stay for church,” Stephen shared enthusiastically.
“I had nothing to do in China, so I just read the Bible,” he said.
As Stephen read, he came across the 10 commandments. He said, “This stood out to me because in North Korea there are 10 principles of Kim Il Sung. I realised I had been deceived by the North Korean government, because the 10 principles were written after the 10 commandments. I had to accept that Christianity was the Truth.”
After this realisation, Stephen exclaimed, “I felt like I could jump for joy! I just wanted to jump in the street and tell everyone about Jesus and had a yearning to go back to North Korea.”
When Stephen told his pastor, he said, “No, you can’t go back. You will die.”
“Fine, I will die,” Stephen replied. “I know God is with me.”
Stephen packed his bag with tracts and Bibles and made his way back to North Korea with a friend. Stephen commented, “We spent 13 days in North Korea and were able to convert three families to Christ, including my grandparents.
“Another family we met was a grandmother, a young couple and a four-year-old child. I told them about myself and about China. They had heard China is a good place, so I said, ‘I have been to China and it is very good, but there is something even better. I want to share this with you.’ More people had come into the house and I started to explain to them about Jesus. I gave them each a Bible and a Gospel tract. The grandmother said, ‘This is great that you tell us about Christianity. We know that we are deceived by our government. We have seen people arrested because they believe in Jesus and this made us curious to know who Jesus is.’
“During my travels, more people came to know who I was and the authorities were beginning to look for me. It became too dangerous, so I headed back to China.”
Not long after returning to China, Stephen was arrested by Chinese authorities and sent back to North Korea. One of the people Stephen had evangelised had reported him to the government. Stephen said, “While I was waiting to be sentenced, I developed typhoid fever, which meant my judgment was delayed. If it hadn’t been delayed I would have been executed, but while I was sick, because of outside pressure, Kim Jong Il decided not to execute anybody and I was only sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. The sentence was then reduced to 10 years.”
Stephen found it difficult to describe his time in prison and continued his story with his release, when he went back to China. He laughed, “I thought to myself the only skill I have is escaping and the only thing I believe in is Jesus.”
He was arrested again for witnessing and sent back to North Korea to serve a further two years’ imprisonment. He shared what happened next.
“They beat me and did not give me any food so I would starve. I got very sick and they thought I would die soon. One day I woke up with a sudden feeling of strength. I asked the guard if I could go and find food, and they allowed me to go because I was so weak they felt there would be no risk of me escaping. By God’s grace I was able to escape.”
A new life in South Korea
Stephen realised he was likely to be caught if he kept returning to China, and decided it was time to move to South Korea. There, our VOM mission in Seoul met Stephen and heard of his desire to attend Bible college. His greatest passion is still to be a missionary to North Koreans.
Stephen realises he needs good training to equip him with the best possible knowledge to serve God as a servant to the lost in North Korea. Please join with us in prayer for Stephen as he dedicates his life to the service of God.
*The March of Suffering is the name used for North Korea’s famine of 1994-1998. The virtual cessation of aid from the Soviet Union and China, major floods and an economic crisis resulted in hundreds of thousands dying.
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