Sunday, April 01, 2007

Missionaries play dual role in lives of Korean refugees

In January 2006, I shared several meals with a dozen North Korean orphans in a safe house in China, half a day's train ride from the North Korean border. Run by a missionary couple, the house was part of a loose network -- made up almost entirely of Christian aid workers -- that shelters some of the 100,000 or so North Koreans who've fled their criminally mismanaged country in search of food and economic opportunity. Many of these migrants, living in China illegally, are victims of abuse and exploitation. The missionaries are virtually their only protectors.

To supporters in the United States, the network is known as the "Underground Railroad," a reference to its incredible secrecy and its agents' occasional successes in smuggling North Koreans through China to freedom in South Korea.

At the time of my visit, the two-story apartment held 14 North Koreans, ranging in age from 5 to 20. Hidden on the outskirts of a major city, it was owned and run by the Lees, Chinese citizens of Korean descent who had led regular lives in Beijing until a divine revelation provided them with a new purpose: the Christian salvation of their fellow Koreans.

[Excerpt of an article by Josh Chin, a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, writing in The San Francisco Chronicle]

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