Along North Korea’s Border

06 Jun

North Korean guards watching the borde
North Korean border guards stationed to keep North Koreans from escaping their country

Dear Friends,

As I’m writing this, I’m waiting at Beijing airport for a flight to Thailand. I’ve just come from many days of traveling and secret meetings along North Korea’s border with China with my daughter, Elisabeth, and two friends from Alpha Relief, with whom Heaven’s Family partners to serve the “least of these” inside North Korea.

This morning in my hotel, I read a news article about life in North Korea under its new 28-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un, who took the reigns of this “hermit kingdom” after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, last fall. A just-released Amnesty International report on North Korea revealed that since then, “The country used firing squads or staged traffic accidents to execute 30 officials involved in talks to unite North and South Korea” and, “As the ruling authority shifted to Kim Jong Un, the country’s state security agency detained another 200 North Korean officials, some of whom are now feared executed or in prison camps.”

The report continued:

Credible reports estimated that up to 200,000 prisoners are being held in horrific conditions in six sprawling political prison camps, including the notorious Yodok facility. Thousands are imprisoned in at least 180 other detention facilities. Most were imprisoned without trial or following grossly unfair trials and on the basis of forced confessions.

Men, women and children, who are kept in the prison camps, are tortured and forced to work in dangerous conditions, according to the report. Many of the prisoners die or get sick while in custody due to the horrendous conditions, beatings, lack of medical care and unhealthy living conditions.

Meantime, the North Korean government denies the existence of the political prison camps.

Amnesty International also reports that hunger is widespread in the country, as 6 million urgently need food and the country is unable to feed its people.

You can read Amnesty International’s full 2012 report about North Korea here:

Having just met with quite a few North Koreans over the past ten days—some safe in South Korea, others hiding in China (which deports them back to North Korea if they are discovered)—and hearing their stories, I read that news article with piqued interest.

After listening to first-hand testimonies of North Koreans who risked their lives to escape their country, we gained specific insight into what drove them to escape and the means they used to succeed against the odds. I remember one man in particular who told us he decided to leave when a number of his wife’s relatives simply disappeared (to concentration camps) only because they were related to an elderly man who was caught with a Bible. In North Korea, three generations are often imprisoned for the “crimes” of one person.

We heard numerous times that fewer North Koreans are attempting to cross the border into China now because border security has been increased in both North Korea and China.

A thank-you note from North Korea next to its English translation
A handwritten note from North Korea

We heard reports of food scarcity, but were happy to hear first-hand from our operatives in China of how, with our help, they have succeeded in smuggling tons of food over the past year inside North Korea to be carefully distributed to networks of underground Christians. (But I can’t reveal the means used.) They gave us some handwritten notes on little pieces of paper that were smuggled out of North Korea, letters of thanks from our brothers and sisters in Christ for food received.

And we received a firsthand report about how a fledgling Heaven’s Family micro-bank inside North Korea has made a successful loan to a Christian family that now is operating a small bakery that serves in the underground economy.

On this trip we’ve been blessed to make pledges totaling $27,000 from our North Korean Christians Fund to provide tons of additional food over the next 12 months. And we also pledged to continue to help Christians who have escaped from North Korea into China, and who now need to be smuggled safely to South Korea (we’ve successfully rescued nine so far), as well as help, at least in one case, a sister in Christ escape the North Korean prison camp where she is currently incarcerated (we have been able to get food and medicine to her in the camp).

There were many highlights on our trip, but I want to tell you about one that occurred late one night when we met with some North Korean Christians at a secret safe house in a remote location China. They knew some “visitors” were coming to see them, but they didn’t know the visitors would be Americans. North Koreans are taught from childhood that Americans are their worst enemies. When they learn to shoot guns as children, they are given targets that represent Americans. Propaganda films and billboards continually warn North Koreans of Americans, the world’s most wicked people, who want to invade their homeland to rape and pillage.

So when we arrived, the North Koreans were quite surprised to meet some of those “wicked” people whom they’ve heard about all their lives! Sitting in a circle, one got up and moved to a different place, later confessing that she was scared to sit next to me! She said we were the first foreigners she had ever met, and she had only seen Americans in North Korean films that depict them doing depraved deeds.

One North Korean man, who had legally left North Korea on a temporary visa, told us that night how he had first heard of Christ from the couple who ran the safe house. But when he returned to his home in North Korea, he dared not tell his wife or three adult children about his conversion, because not even family can be trusted in North Korea. He had, however, crossed the border again to spend several months in the safe house to learn more about Christ and grow in his faith. He told us that in a few days he would be returning to North Korea, but this time he planned to share Christ with his loved ones and others so that they could have a chance to join him in heaven. He knows full well that he will likely die for faithfully proclaiming his Savior, but he is compelled by the love of the One who died for him.

Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea. And thank you, on their behalf, for your gifts to the North Korean Christians Fund, by which we are able to serve them in Jesus’ name.

With gratitude,


Houses along the North Korean border
Looking across the border: The larger buildings in the foreground were built to hide the dilapidated homes behind them.

North Korean women washing clothes along the border
No washing machines in North Korea! These woman wash their clothes along the river

Colorful ribbons with writing on tied to a barbed wire fence along the North Korean border
South Koreans leave notes on a Demilitarized Zone fence between their divided nation for their relatives who are trapped inside North Korea


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