Her husband’s body floated in her arms, lifeless. Fearing for her own life, she allowed the frigid river current to coax him from her grasp. There was no time to watch his corpse float away.
Just moments before, Mi Rae and her husband, Chin Ho [not their real names], were attempting a daring escape across the river separating North Korea from China. With the Chinese shoreline almost within reach, bullets fired from a North Korean border guard had abruptly ended Chin Ho’s life. Hoping to avoid the same fate, Mi Rae desperately lunged towards the shore.
As a child growing up in North Korea, Mi Rae was recognized as possessing a gifted singing voice, and she was given the privilege of attending a special school to develop her vocal talents. She was ultimately chosen to regularly perform with a vocal group in her province, which afforded her a few privileges that average North Koreans could not enjoy. Coupling her government wages with those of her husband who worked at a government factory, they, their two children, and their extended family survived even when others faced hunger. When austerity measures brought an end to government funding for Mi Rae’s vocal team, however, the family suddenly found themselves going hungry with everyone else.
Eventually, Mi Rae and Chin Ho felt their only option was to illegally cross the border into China in hopes of finding work there in order to send food back to their needy family. Leaving their children in the care of grandparents, they trekked under the cover of darkness towards the border. Carefully monitoring border guards who walked the North Korea river shoreline, they slipped into the cold slow-moving water when it seemed their chances of success were greatest.
It was perhaps the mercy of a North Korean border guard that saved her life, or the delay necessary to reload his rifle after firing at her husband. But somehow Mi Rae made it into China, where she disappeared into the shoreline vegetation.
Alone in a foreign land, Mi Rae knew she could not abandon her original mission to help her hungry family back in North Korea. Yet even in China she realized that she was not safe, as North Korean defectors who are discovered are sent back to their homeland, where they are tortured into making confessions and sentenced to prison camps and shallow graves. Despite the odds, Mi Rae found a Christian safe house in a border city, and with additional help from caring believers, she succeeded in making the dangerous journey to safety in South Korea.
It was in a church in Seoul where Mi Rae was introduced to operatives who smuggle food into North Korea through a secret network that is funded in part through Heaven’s Family’s North Korean Christians Fund. After sharing her story with them, they agreed to locate her family members in North Korea and include them in monthly food distributions.
At last, Mi Rae dared to hope once again. Now she saves the money she earns in South Korea so she can one day pay smuggling agents the thousands of dollars they will require to rescue her children so that, in answer to her prayers, she can finally be reunited with them.