It was past midnight. Samuel was standing, soaking wet, on the riverbank looking back across the dark water now separating him from his home country of North Korea. Though the night air was cool, he barely noticed. His wildly beating heart was pumping generous amounts of adrenaline throughout his body. I made it!…he thought with elation…I actually made it.
Friends had warned him that a solo escape across the heavily guarded river separating North Korea from China was impossible. You’ll be shot on sight, they reminded him. The only alternative, Samuel knew, was to hire an experienced guide to help him navigate around the many guard posts lining the river’s edge, but their fees were exorbitant.
Samuel had just beaten the odds by crossing a mountainous area of the border without the help of a guide. Although there are fewer guard posts in the mountain border regions, most escapees choose less remote crossing points, where Chinese cities on the other side populated with ethnic Koreans make it easier to blend in. Remote border crossings require long treks to Chinese cities, and without survival skills, North Korean defectors risk facing hunger and exhaustion, not to mention the risk of being conspicuous to Chinese authorities.
If apprehended in China, defectors are turned over to North Korean authorities, and such “traitors” first face torture, then several years in a hard-labor camp, which they may not survive. If that weren’t dangerous enough, human traffickers in China also hunt and capture vulnerable North Korean escapees. Captured women are sold into the sex industry, and men like Samuel are forced into slavery, working in horrific conditions.
Samuel again defied the odds by surviving, not just a few days, but an entire year in the dangerous Chinese border region. He constantly kept on the move and gathered what he needed to survive only when his presence would go unnoticed.
Some may think Samuel’s survival was a lucky defiance of the odds. But what happened next reveals that more than luck was at play.
Samuel met another North Korean escapee through whom he learned of a safe house supported by Heaven’s Family. After almost 13 months on the run, Samuel cautiously visited. As the home’s hosts welcomed him with a warm meal and promise of refuge, he finally found a sense of peace. And within the walls of that safe house, Samuel was ultimately introduced to Jesus and a family of Christians that extends around the world. It was more than he could have ever hoped for. And because of investments in our North Korean Christians Fund, his new family was able to provide him safe passage and citizenship in neighboring South Korea, where he is now living as a free man and follower of Christ.