By Elijah M. Brown

Mrs. Kim escaped North Korea on her fifth attempt.

Two days before meeting her, I had stood on the DMZ border of South and North Korea and felt the weight of tense conflict infused with hope that perhaps breakthrough and reconciliation could be possible. Now, sitting with Mrs. Kim in a small corner of a vibrant Baptist church outside Seoul, she said:

This is a story of pain and torture, but we see how God is moving. Even now the gospel is being preached in North Korea. Even now, I don’t say, "Lord, don’t send me back." I pray, "Lord, let your will be done." I believe for the Kingdom there have to be sacrifices and martyrdom.

Like many, Mrs. Kim grew up in North Korea as an atheist, but with a family member sentenced to a political camp, she decided to look for an opportunity to restart life elsewhere. Four attempts and more than 15 prisons later, Mrs. Kim sold herself as a wife to a Chinese husband. 

Estimates vary widely but perhaps as many as 200,000 North Korean women have been trafficked into China for forced prostitution and marriage. The few who have escaped and publicly spoken often note rampant sexual abuse, women sold and resold, and virtual imprisonment for women hidden without legal recourse.

Fortunately, Mrs. Kim found herself in an exceptional case. After giving birth to a daughter, Mrs. Kim’s husband decided to help her reach South Korea. The family paid a smuggler, which costs on average $17,000 USD, and Mrs. Kim, with her toddler daughter placed on her back, began a three-month walk across Myanmar and Laos to reach a refugee camp in Thailand.  

From there, the South Korean government resettled Mrs. Kim and her daughter in South Korea and later allowed her Chinese husband to rejoin the family. But in many respects the journey had only just begun.

As Mrs. Kim began studying at a university in South Korea, one of her professors began to share the hope he had found in Jesus Christ. At first she rejected this witness, but her husband implored, “Can’t you see that God has protected you? … There must be a book about this God, why don’t you learn about this God and then tell me about this God?”

Following her Buddhist husband’s advice, Mrs. Kim began to read the Bible and became a Christian. After a series of visions, her husband also joined her as a Christ-follower.

Now celebrating the 10th anniversary of their move, the family continues to live and love together. They pray daily for North Korea and is preparing for a time when they can return and live out their faith in joyful hope and in the hard work of strengthening the country spiritually and physically.

As our time together ended, Mrs. Kim shared:

In North Korea, there are many underground Christians. They have learned to sing songs like “Amazing Grace” very quietly in a whisper. But they want to sing loudly. Pray that those who are in prison will be released. In Luke 4, Jesus says, using Isaiah 61, the spirit of the Lord is on me to preach the Good News to the poor, to release the prisoners and to heal the sick. This is exactly what needs to happen in North Korea. We are called to look after the widow and the orphan. Who will be the neighbor to the one who has been captured?

This powerful question continues to resonate. The exhortation of Luke 4:18-19 asks each us to respond to Jesus’ call to live as friend to those in our contexts, our countries, and our world who find themselves marginalized in situations of challenge.

Will we follow the powerful example set by Mrs. Kim and join her and her family and daily pray for North Korea?

Today there is a remarkable opportunity to pursue just peace and lasting reconciliation within the Korean peninsula. I urge all leaders and call upon each one of us to do the same, to build upon this moment before it passes. For in the end, as an interconnected global world, we must each respond to the question poised by Mrs. Kim. Will we be a good neighbor?