October 18, 2015


Christianity was the only way out, says North Korean defector (Ed Pilkington, 18 October 2015, The Guardian)

The first time Joseph Kim heard the words "Christian" and "church", he had no idea what they meant. He had never seen a church and Christianity was as unfamiliar to him in his famine-ravaged North Korea as Disneyland.

"Kwang Jin", a friend said to him, using the Korean name by which Kim was then known, "if you ever go to China, the churches will give you money."

To which Kim replied: "What's a church? Why would they just give you money?"

"Because they're Christians," the friend said.

"What are Christians?" Kim asked.

That Kim should have known nothing about Christianity when he was growing up in North Korea was hardly surprising. Born in 1990, the only belief system to which he was exposed as a child was reverence, mixed with fear, for the Great Leader. [...]

"How do I find this church?" he asked.

"Look for a cross," she replied.

His search took him to a number of churches in Tumen City, the Chinese town where he arrived close to the North Korean border, and through them he was introduced to a network of Chinese-Korean Christians who were to prove his salvation.

"If that hadn't happened, I don't know what other route I could have taken," Kim said in an interview with the Guardian in New York, where he now lives. "I didn't have any relatives or friends I could find inside China, so this was my only hope."

Unbeknown to Kim at that time, his connection with the Christians meant that he had entered the most sophisticated underground support network for North Korean defectors then in existence inside China.

Backed with money and logistical support from South Korean-based, largely Presbyterian, churches, an intricate system was in place for hiding away, and then providing escape routes, for people who had fled famine or persecution in the DPRK.

In Kim's case, he was sheltered in the home of a Korean-Chinese woman, aged about 75, whom he called Grandma. A woman of strong faith, she was a member of a South Korean church, which paid some of her rent and the expenses she incurred looking after North Korean defectors.

It was a dangerous arrangement. If Grandma had been caught harbouring Kim, she would have faced a 5,000-yuan (£520) penalty - an enormous sum for her. If Kim had been caught, he would have been deported back to North Korea, where his connection with Christianity would have been severely punished.

"Public execution would have been highly possible, but definitely I would have been sent to a prison camp back in North Korea," he said. 

Posted by at October 18, 2015 7:47 AM

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