No. 237/ Interview
I met missionary Jang Innae who has escaped North Korea for 10 years. Missionary Jang is preparing for missionary work by serving believers who escaped from North Korea. I listened to the process of escaping North Korea and living in South Korea, which cannot be explained without the grace of God.
– I heard you are serving North Korean defectors. What kind of work do you do?
“Our church consists of about 60 percent of the people who escaped from North Korea and 40 percent of the South Korean. I am in charge of elementary school and serve the second generation of North Korean defectors and the next generation of South Korea. The pastor is also a North Korean defector. He serves the church and at the same time serves as the head of the Unification Hope Mission (hereafter UHM). The UHM opens North Korea mission school twice a year. The school educates how to spread gospel to North Korean and dispatches trainees. The trainees go into the North Korean defectors’ temporary dwelling place and teach Bible to them. After three months of training, the UHM connects with the embassy or immigration office to help them come to South Korea. The UHM and church are in one building, and the representative is one person, so we are working together by sharing the same vision and prayer.”
– You’ve escaped from North Korea, so you must have heart for North Korean defectors. Please share the process of escaping North Korea.
“When North Korean decide to defect their country, they follow a broker who leads them. Most North Korean defectors go to China, but they have no choice but to go as the broker guides them in a situation where they don’t know Chinese and know nothing about the local situation. The broker who led me first took me to an older man in Beijing and introduced me as my husband. At that time, I was only 22 years old, and I had no relationship with men and cried for days and days that I couldn’t stay. The broker took me back to Yanbian, probably because he thought I couldn’t stand. A Korean-Chinese man I met at the place where I was sold for the second time is my current husband. I lived in China with my husband for 3 years. The only person to trust in the process of escaping from North Korea is a broker. I have no choice but to do as he tells me. Moreover, I have defected from North Korea, so I need a guardian to live. So most North Korean female defectors are sold to Chinese man and became their wife through brokers or misplaced by chatters.”
My pastor made me want to know God.
– It must have been a long journey to come to Korea, right?
“One day, I got a call from an unknown man. It was a broker. I asked to him to give me a phone number of a person in Korea. I got the number and called, and luckily, I knew him. When he was in North Korea, all of his family members disappeared. He said he wanted to help me and let me meet a Korean. I said I wanted to meet the Korean too. The Korean was our church pastor and he came to China right after the call. That’s when I first met the pastor. He met me at a restaurant and told me about God and prayed for me. The person I first saw in my life prayed with words that I couldn’t understand. I was scared and suspicious, but I promised to meet the pastor every week for two months. The pastor in return promised to pay for my living expenses during the meeting. Whenever he came, he brought people who were interested in North Korean missionary work. While listening to my stories, they had cried for 2 nights and 3 days and said they were sorry that they lived well while many North Korean defectors like me went through such a painful time. I wasn’t sure whether there was God, but I wondered what they were like. I thought if what these people said wasn’t a lie, God could really exist. I came back and looked for a church near my house. There was a Korean-Chinese church an hour away. I went to church for about six months, and my husband took me every week.”
– Did your husband go to church with you?
“No, he just took me there. In the meantime, I met the pastor about four times. I worshiped whenever we met. Bible study didn’t work at first. We spent time talking about each other’s recent developments. At that time, about four sisters from North Korea seemed to have gathered together. Around that time, there was a sister who wanted to join the meeting, but she didn’t answer for some reason. Later, I noticed that the sisters were acting as middle brokers and there was an incident that people misunderstood me. I made it difficult for the group to study the Bible together. I decided to go to Korea after concluding that it would be okay without me. That was when my first child passed the age of two.”
Escape from China, came to Korea through a third country prison
– Did your family come out with you?
“No, it’s just me. I urgently contacted the pastor. I think I shouldn’t be here. He told me to run away. With the help of my husband and church members, 11 people escaped together following the guide of a person introduced by the pastor. I took a boat with the broker and crossed the river and arrived in a third country. I had to be caught by the police there. Through that way, I can become a refugee and be connected to the embassy of the country I want to go to. Anyway, I have to be arrested. I was in a prison for about 40 days and then I was transferred to the immigration office and I was able to come to Korea.”
– Did you remember any difficulties in your journey?
“There in prison, I had to buy food at a market and prepare my own meals. People with money can afford it, but I couldn’t because I only had money to afford a trial. I went to that country illegally, so I could go to another country only through trial. At that time, I had breastfed my first child for a year and my body was weak, so I went to the market and fainted. I was reported to the police and went back to the station where I stayed, and after that moment they started feeding me. When I was wandering around in a third country, I had to endure with my mentality because no one could protect me. Looking back, it was a time when wounds, obstinacy and dryness has built up.”
– You’ve had a hard time.
“I’m grateful that I came to Korea even though I had difficulty in breathing. I can’t get on the plane if I have something wrong with my body, but I came here. As soon as I arrived in Korea, I had a medical checkup at the National Intelligence Service and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. During my two-month stay at the NIS, I was in solitary confinement for 40 days because my tuberculosis medication didn’t work. I could endure life here if there were many people, but it was so hard to be alone in a place where I couldn’t see even a single bug. I was so worried about my child as I was sick. I don’t know when this disease started, but I’m afraid I might have taken it to my baby. I asked NIS to call my family in China. I’m so worried about him. I called my husband and he was surprised that heard that I arrived in Korea well, but I have a bug in my lung. I told him to check his lung’s okay, and I hung up the phone. I didn’t even know the term lung tuberculosis at the time, so I had to explain it that way.”
– You’ve been having a hard time even after you came to Korea.
“There is not a piece of paper in the solitary cell. Everything I had was taken away, and somehow there was a pen in my bag. I really wanted to write something. So, I wrote a letter by attaching rice to the tissue and making it look like paper. At first, I wrote only letters to people in China or North Korea, but I thought about writing the Bible in China, so I begged for the Bible. The custodian said, “I’ve never seen anyone who asks for a Bible in a solitary cell under investigation,” and he said, “No,” and he brought it to me in 10 minutes. At that time, I sang hymns from 1 to 600 day and night with one melody. I also made a transcription of the Bible on the tissue paper. But the side effects of the medicine got worse, so I was hospitalized, and the staff who went to a hospital with me came to see me when he knew no one was coming to see me. He even brought his wife’s food to the hospital during the holidays. He gave me a handful of ballpoint pens and 100 sheets of paper. There, I cried and prayed every day and prayed to protect my child if God is alive. If God protects him, I prayed that I would give him as He pleases.”
Realize that I am a sinner before the truth of the Gospel
– So when did you get out of there?
“I came to Korea in January 2011 and after going through the NIS and Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees (Hanawon), it became May. I got a house and sat in a room with no one, and I was so scared to be alone. I always pretended to be brave, so I thought I am fearless, but I was so scared that I couldn’t breathe. At that time, I understood the stories of people who are frustrated by desolation committed suicide. I just left home and went around the neighborhood and cried. I didn’t know why I was crying. I just got in touch with the pastor and went to church. At that time, I was weak after taking tuberculosis medication, so I lived at church for a year without receiving vocational education. I participated many gatherings, retreats, revival, fasting, mountain prayers, etc. I cleaned and made food at church. I’m not good at cooking, but they complimented me and loved me a lot. Then in November 2011, I went to Gospel School with the introduction of my acquaintance. There, I saw myself as a sinner from birth.”
– How did you realize that you were a sinner?
“My father was a conductor in North Korea. He was respected outside, but he wasn’t such a good father at home. My mom made tofu to live, and my father gave it to other people. North Korea encourages action through instigation in all areas, and art cannot be left out. My dad received a lot of bribes while conducting, but he gave it to the crew and didn’t do well at home. And then my father had an affair. After that, I didn’t call him Dad.”
I didn’t open my heart until he died. I hated my father so much that I thought I’d get rat poison in alcohol. My father died from illness, and I couldn’t recover my relationship with him until the end. My father expressed his apologetic feelings while he was dying. My mom and I have been away from home for a few days to work in the fields. One chick that I had raised at home died, and my father, who liked meat, didn’t eat it and boiled it with glutinous rice. It was midsummer, and I was amazed how it didn’t go bad. When I got home, my father was already dead. It reminded me of that time and made me realize how essentially guilty I am. And I saw myself holding onto the corrupted Gospel other than the Gospel of the cross. Compliments that I am good and trustworthy became the Gospel to me. When no one praise me, I became angry and cleaning church or volunteering was not fun but annoyed. When I thought about these things, I realized that I am a sinner.
– I see. What kind of life have you lived since you realized God’s grace?
“After a year, my husband and son came to Korea, and the following year, I studied social welfare and majored in theology again. My husband doesn’t know God, but he’s a good man. Others try to cut even one more penny when they pay for North Korean women. But my husband didn’t. He tried not to treat me as an object. Even if I didn’t believe in Jesus, I wouldn’t have given up on my husband. Of course, because I heard and believed the Gospel, I can be more grateful for the right choices and responsibilities, God’s providence and plan. But all North Korean defectors have difficulty keeping their families and their children.”
– Please explain it in more detail.
“North Koreans in South Korea have various difficulties. It’s not about money. The South Korean government gives North Koreans rental house and six months of living wage so that they can stand on their own feet. But emptiness is a big problem. People who believe in Jesus struggle to fill the emptiness in their hearts with words and prayer. But those who don’t believe in Jesus fill their emptiness with something else. Among them, finding the opposite sex is one of them. Life after escaping from China or a third country was not life of their choices, and they were forced to marry. In Korea, however, they have the freedom to choose their spouses, so they seem to find their spouses with the freedom they are given. In some cases, even if North Korean brings the remaining family members to South Korea, they may not maintain their family until the end, and some people do not even bring the remaining family members from China. So, their family would be in North Korea, China, and South Korea. They don’t know what freedom is, and they don’t think responsibility follows after freedom. They think they enjoy freedom, but they don’t know how many trials and errors they go through. Eventually, we have to meet God and accept the fact that this is a family that is allowed in God’s plan. It is impossible to protect a family unless they admit that the family in China is also a creature made in the image of God. Also, there are many financial difficulties. They have to send money to the rest of their families in China or North Korea, so they have another difficulty while continuing to find something that makes a lot of money easily.”
– Even if you come to Korea, the situation is very difficult.
“So, the South Korean church should not attract North Koreans with material. It’s not that I’m happy when I have money, and I’m unhappy that I don’t. If the church allows North Korean defectors to meet the truth, they can go through a process of ups and downs, but they can follow God’s will. People say that I can say this because I protected my family and my situation is not bad. But I also had to make up my mind before bringing my family to Korea in China. It wasn’t easy. My husband couldn’t have come if I hadn’t invited him to Korea. This is the position of husbands who sent their wives to South Korea. I might say that I will live a new life in Korea now, but I didn’t. I think it’s the role of the church to raise North Korean sisters by faith until they meet God properly, and to let them know what the responsibility is even if they newly get married.”
We need a warrior of the Gospel to serve North Korean defectors.
– What else should the church serve for North Korean defectors?
It is easy for North Korean defectors to stop contacting in South Korea. If they change their contacts, we’ll never find them again. There are about 34,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea, and millions have come to North Korea. Some missionaries say that North Korean defectors are unification sent ahead to South Korea, just like Joseph. Would the demon leave them alone? So, we need someone like a warrior. For this reason, the role of the South Korean church is urgently needed. It is difficult for a North Korean family to raise a North Korean family. The prepared Korean church, which has already met God deeply, needs a role in nurturing North Korean defectors to the depth of their experiences.”
– We need to nurture North Korean defectors.
“There are 50,000 to 60,000 Korean churches, and I think it would be an efficient way to prepare for unification if a church takes charge of one North Korean defector and raises him or her as a warrior.” There is a limit to South Korean churches preparing for North Korea mission. It is much more efficient for North Koreans doing North Korea mission. When North Korea opens up and North Koreans who became warrior of the Gospel go back to their hometowns and deliver the Gospel to their families, a really big change will happen. For this reason, the South Korean church should act as a witness who shows a life in which the Gospel is a power within you. It would be very powerful if the South Korean church tries to let North Korean defectors know and meet the God they met, not to plant them the best church education program or system.”
– Do you have any future plans?
“My goal is to do missionary work. So, I’m preparing to be a one-person worshiper, a one-person evangelizer, and a one-person Bible guide. I want to learn English, Hella, and Chinese and declare the Gospel wherever I go. I’ll be a church where I am. So, I’m practicing guitar whenever I have time. I finished instructor training course in ‘I can read the Bible’. I thought it was time to raise a disciple, not a group. The focus should be on enabling each person to grow up enough so that they can also make disciples. Second generation North Korean defectors are in an important position. Our children have no choice but to embrace North Korea and China. But if my husband’s not ready, I can’t take the path with him, so I’m praying for him to be prepared as a worshiper.
– Lastly, please share your prayer request.
“I’m praying for my family to become a first worship community. Please pray for my husband to receive Jesus Christ and we can walk with the same vision. Also pray that my husband will play the role of preaching the Gospel to his family in North Korea.
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