Mi Young lay on the muddy riverbank, wet, shivering, and exhausted, clutching her teenage son, Jae. They had just done the unthinkable: under cover of darkness, they’d illegally swum across a river that separates North Korea from China—without being shot by border guards. Now, however, it seemed that hypothermia might succeed where border guards had failed.
The decision to escape had been years in the making. Survival inside North Korea had become increasingly difficult for Mi Young and Jae. Rarely did their hard work provide more than two meager meals per day, a harsh reality shared by many of their countrymen.
Mi Young and Jae thought often of escaping to China as others had done, but the risk of being captured and sent to a labor camp—or being executed—terrified them. They also knew that China offered its own set of risks. Even if they survived the risky river crossing, they’d have to hide from both Chinese and North Korean secret police who hunt for North Korean defectors. But desperation eventually overcame their fears, so Mi Young and Jae began planning their flight to freedom.
On the night of their long-awaited escape, mother and son crouched among reeds along the river’s edge, surveying the twinkling lights of the Chinese town on the far bank. Silently, the pair locked arms and waded into the cold river, while stories of others who had drowned during similar attempts filled their thoughts.
The current was strong. When Mi Young and Jae finally lay shivering on the opposite shore, they found themselves well downstream of their intended landing. But they were alive. They decided to wait for morning light in order to get their bearings.
Early the next day, a riverbank fisherman discovered them. Sympathetic to their plight, he led them to a nearby apartment where he’d heard North Koreans could find refuge. The apartment owner and his wife quickly ushered the frigid, frightened pair into their home, covered them with warm blankets, and offered them food and hot tea.
Mi Young was overcome with emotion from her trauma and subsequent relief. Between her sobs, she asked the friendly couple why they would choose to help her and Jae at such great risk to themselves. For the first time, the name Jesus was introduced to her as the apartment owner explained of His love and lordship. That morning, with tears streaming down her face, Mi Young gave her life to Christ.
The apartment where Mi Young and Jae found refuge is just one of many safe houses along the China-North Korea border supported by Heaven’s Family. Gifts to the North Korean Christians Fund provided warm meals, shelter, and daily counseling for Mi Young and Jae during their stay at the safe house. Those gifts are now also providing for secret transportation to South Korea using a modern “underground railroad” so that Mi Young and her son can begin a new life there.