Chi Ha-yang, an elderly North Korean widow, waited for night to fall before meeting secretly with three friends and sneaking across the North Korean border to China.
As the widow of a senior North Korean official, Chi Ha-yang witnessed brutality against Christians and watched the bloody execution of seven believers. "Like the crucifixion, their hands were pierced through with iron wire," she recalled.
After Chi Ha-yang became a Christian, authorities beat her publicly. At one beating, Chi Ha-yang "prayed to God in my heart for help." Suddenly the lights went out, and the man who was beating her stopped.
At age 76 Chi Ha-yang commanded respect for her many years as a Christian in North Korea. Some call her a "mother of the North Korea church." Ill and hoping to tell others of Christ's work in North Korea, Ha-yang believed it was time to escape.
"Go," she prodded her friends as they hurried through the darkness. They were headed toward a secret crossing point along the 350-mile northern border separating North Korea from Manchuria.
Chi Ha-yang was one of hundreds of North Koreans during the past year to make the even more hazardous passage from China to South Korea.
Norbert Vollertsen, a German physician whose book Diary of a Mad Place is about his recent work inside North Korea, told Christianity Today that he hopes the surge of refugees will bring about a political crisis within North Korea, triggering major reform.
There is "electric fear," Vollertsen said. "North Korea is afraid of a Romanian-style collapse." Rebellion in Romania toppled its communist regime in 1989, and ruler Nicolae Ceausescu was convicted of genocide and executed.
Several years ago, North Korea gave Vollertsen a medal for his medical service. But Vollertsen knew he had to do more than care for broken bodies. He saw the devastating effects that famine and endless repression had on 22 million North Koreans, whom he has described as depressed.
"I tried my own personal engagement policy," he said. As a physician for leaders of the regime, he had great access but little effect. The regime kicked him out for speaking out on human rights.
Vollertsen said North Korea's situation might be compared to East Germany in 1989. After East Germany allowed its citizens to travel freely, its government voted for reunification less than a year later.
With a goal of stimulating dramatic change, Vollertsen has helped North Korean refugees seek asylum inside Western embassies in China. This activity has earned him accolades from members of the U.S. Congress and condemnation from Chinese communists. At least 60 North Koreans this year have escaped using the embassy-asylum route.
Communist-controlled media in China blame Christians, among others, for making the overall refugee problem worse by both helping North Koreans get into China and helping them escape China to freedom.
Presbyterian missionary Sue Kinsler was there. "The 10-year-olds looked 7 or 8. The 3- or 4-year-olds looked 2 or 3," she said. Some children swam across the Chinese border at the polluted Tumen River, then collapsed and died.
Communist leaders in China and North Korea, historically close allies, have intensified their crackdown on refugees and those who aid them. In late 2001, Chinese border guards arrested Chun Ki-won, the South Korean Christian who helped an estimated 170 North Koreans escape to South Korea beginning in 1999.
His arrest touched off a global campaign to secure his release. Americans Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea and Doug Shin buttonholed political leaders in Washington and around the world to pressure the Chinese to liberate Chun. The Chinese government finally freed the 46-year-old, who had spent eight months in jail and had paid a heavy fine.
"I found my mission when I first saw North Korean women in China who had been captured by sexual traffickers," Chun said in an interview with CT.
In an interview after her arrival in South Korea, 76-year-old Chi Ha-yang said she wants to help believers still inside North Korea.
[From an article written by Tony Carnes in Christianity Today]