In the days when few North Korean refugees crossed the border into China, the Chinese people near the border were warm-hearted and willing to help. Their attitudes have since changed now that a large number of refugees cross the border to escape the oppression and poverty of North Korea.
The memories of poverty with no one to help him during the first year in China are still potent to Kang Chul-ho, the first North Korean defector to become a Christian minister. "I was like one of the homeless on the streets and couldn't eat for many days," he said.
After spending the first year wandering the streets, he happened to meet a Chinese Christian pastor in Shenyang, whom he calls his "life-saver." The minister offered him shelter and enabled him to make his way to South Korea.
"While I was hiding in a church with the help of the pastor, someone reported my presence to the Chinese authorities, but the pastor hid me even though he could have faced severe punishment from the government," he said.
His disillusionment with Kim Il-sung - whom the North Koreans revere like a deity - had earlier caused him to rebel against the concept of a divine presence, but this experience opened his mind to the idea. "I was initially full of doubt, asking how someone invisible could protect us when the visible Kim Il-sung, whom we so avidly worshiped, failed to protect us. But I slowly realized the love of God through this series of incidents," he said.
Kang established the Methodist Saeteo Church in western Seoul in 2004. At the time, he was joined by just 10 North Korean defectors who donated a portion of the government stipends they received when they settled here.
[The Korean Herald]