Tag Archives: refugees

He fled North Korea and found Jesus in China

060515josephkim04awStarving North Korean teenager escaped, found Jesus in China

After his father died his mother abandoned him to go to China in search of food. So Joseph Kim, at 12 years old, became homeless, left to fend for himself in the throes of the great famine of North Korea, which started four years after the USSR collapsed and withdrew its financial support for the communist state.

With no one to turn to, Kim joined other streets urchins begging in the marketplace: “May I have your last spoonful of soup?” he asked with a plaintive cry.

kkotjebi

A kkotjebi in North Korea (not Joseph Kim)

But his stomach was never filled from the handouts of a few gracious diners in his native town.

“They called us kkotjebi, ‘wandering sparrows,’ because of the way we would bend over and look for grains of rice or kernels of corn on the ground,” he said.

Next he resorted to stealing. He wouldn’t pilfer manhole covers because if he got caught he would face execution (since the manhole covers belong to the state and any crime against the state was severely punished). He fell in with a band of thieves who believed they were re-distributing wealth. His comrades eventually were arrested, but mercifully, he was absent when the police raided.

“The famine had thinned out the village, as many of our friends lost grandmothers, aunts, sons and cousins,” Kim wrote in his 2015 book Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America. “The graves climbed up the mountainside as if it were infected with a virus.”

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The border between North Korea and China

The young Kim tried the exhausting and dangerous work of coal mining. With no safety equipment and hand-powered ventilation, Kim eked out an existence for three months. But mining only lasted until you died, and with no safety standards, death was usually inevitable.

His relatives entertained him for a time, but some of them were desperately struggling themselves, and another mouth to feed at the table was the last thing they wanted. A few relatives were simply greedy and lazy.

Without an immediate family, “either you lived with rich relatives or you stole – or you died,” Kim observes grimly. “Really, those were your only options.”

north korea revere leader

When he was guarding his uncle’s vegetable crops (from thieves like himself), he met an ex-convict who imparted a wonderful secret: If he managed to elude authorities and defect to China, the Christian churches there would give him money.

What was a Christian church? Kim wondered. Raised in the closed and atheistic totalitarian regime, he had been taught to revere the country’s leader and distrust outsiders – especially Americans and Japanese, who had no greater pleasure than to drive bayonets through North Koreans.

“Why do Christians give money to strangers?” Kim asked the ex-convict.

reddit joseph kim“It’s just what Christians do,” he replied. “They give things away. They’re not like normal people.”

One day, almost on a whim, with no previous planning or preparation, he decided to cross the frozen Tumen River bordering China on foot in plain daylight. His audacity contributed to his success. No one ever dared defect during the day. At night, those who got caught were either shot or tortured in prison.

When North Korean soldiers finally caught sight of him on the far side of the river, their shouts were more of astonishment than outrage. Not a shot was fired. He was only 14-years-old.

Once in China, Kim decided he would try to find his long-lost sister, Bong Sook, who had been sold off by their mother – either to be wedded or to sex exploitation, he didn’t know which. But before he could find her, he had to avoid capture by Chinese soldiers who would send him back to North Korea, where he would be imprisoned.

When he knocked on doors in the countryside asking for food, some Chinese were gruff and told him to go away. He had heard about the limitless riches of China and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t share. A few gave him food. He slept in an abandoned house or under the stars.

Eventually, Kim made his way to the city of Yanji, where he looked for churches. He asked for money, and some of them gave. One kindly pastor’s wife took him in, even though, he learned later, she didn’t have money to fix her husband’s teeth at the dentist.

After a few weeks, someone in the church hired Kim for household help. He called the elderly Christian lady “Grandma,” and she taught him many things about the Bible.

Except for the longing to find his sister and see his mother (who was in prison in North Korea for defecting to China), he was happy. He was eating his fill, dressing his version of cool and reading the Bible, which he slowly began to understand.

Once when he sang a hymn with Grandma, he was deeply moved by the lyrics: “Father, I stretch my hands to Thee, No other help I know; If Thou withdraw Thyself from me, Ah! Whither shall I go?”

The Holy Spirit touched his heart and imparted saving faith. “I felt something pierce my heart,” Kim recalls. “I understood this. This was my life. That night alone in my room, I began to cry.

He attempted to talk to God for the first time. “I don’t know who you are,” he said. “I don’t understand the Scripture. But I’m surrendering myself to you.”

At that pivotal moment of submission to Jesus as his Lord and Savior, Kim was born again.

Not long afterward, a missionary visited Kim and explained to him the option to go to the U.S. as a political refugee. At first he didn’t like the idea because he remembered the North Korean indoctrination that Americans are evil.

But after praying, he agreed to go to a shelter partially funded by Liberty in North Korea, an activist group dedicated to resettling North Koreans in America. That’s where he met “Adrian,” who agreed to take him to freedom.

So as to not arouse suspicion of patrolling Chinese immigration officials, Adrian taught Kim and two other North Korean refugees to act like rowdy Korean-American tourists. Once in the market, Kim grabbed his fellow North Korean in a headlock that drew stares and mutterings from the local Chinese about the poor behavior of Americans.

Adrian bought them American clothes, and Kim was transformed into a “skater type – baseball cap turned to the side, bright graphic T-shirt and narrow pants.” Decked out as new personas, they rode the train to Shenyang.

There, they were taken to the U.S. consulate. But when the guard subjected Kim to a black wand metal detector search, Kim panicked. He thought he was being arrested.

Seeing the terror in his face, Adrian realized he should have explained the drill beforehand. “You’re safe now!” he shouted to Kim.

After months of paperwork, Kim was flown to the U.S. and moved in with host families. He attended high school and became a speaker on behalf of human rights organizations. He currently attends Bard College on full-ride scholarship in New York.

He is serving Jesus, happy and free. His only remorse is for his mother and his sister, Bong Sook, whom he still longs to see. Once while giving a speech in Scotland, he opted to sleep in the airport under a glass roof that allowed him see the stars. He meditated that somewhere in China was his cherished sister.

“I wonder what you are doing tonight,” he whispered. “Are you warm and safe like me? I will not forget you. Right now, we only share the stars. I can look up at night and see that you are under the same sky.”

That is how he came up with the title of his autobiography, Under the Same Sky. While he doesn’t know what’s happened to his mother, Kim believes one day he will be reunited with his beloved, long-sought sister.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on God Reports. I wrote it, so I feature it here too.

Their daring 185-mile walk to freedom

syrian-refugeesThey tried living under ISIS rule in their Euphrates River-hugging city of Raqqa, but once what was paradise for them became a hell that forced them to instead flee the country, walking 185 miles and eluding military check points in danger of death.

Ibrahim, 48, and wife Turkiye, 45, arrived Feb. 9 at a refugee camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, with 10 children safely, according to an interview conducted by IBTimes UK.

Fear, death and carnage came on all sides in their native land. If they weren’t suffering under the oppressive ISIS militants who crucify critics, they were running from constant and indiscriminate bombardments conducted by Russians, Syrians and sometimes even the U.S., they said.

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Raqqa today

ISIS maintains a tight grip on the citizenry of Raqqa, where they have set up the capital of their “caliphate,” a supposed utopia of strict Islamic law in which women must be covered from head to toe and men cannot smoke on the streets.

To pay for its war, the ISIS exacts sky-rocketing taxes of the city’s residents. And they seize children to make them into soldiers.

“They would take children like this”, said a cousin Mohammed, pointing at his 13-year-old nephew, “to teach them their religion, to brainwash them according to their beliefs. If I’d had a son and had refused to send him, they would whip me.”

The price of bread has shot up to 1,200 Syrian pounds from 40 pounds previously, Ibrahim said. Men now must grow beards, and women cannot stand next to men in the streets, even if he is a family member. Smoking is punishable by severing the index and middle finger, he added.

Taxes on fertilizer and irrigation bankrupted the family’s farming business next to the Euphrates, Ibrahim said.

Air raids designed to destroy ISIS are taking a heavy toll on the civilian population, Mohammed said.

“Daesh (another name of ISIS) would come and hide among us when the regime planes would come and bomb,” he said. “There is no proper targeting. To kill one ISIS person, they will kill 30 civilians. What the Daesh would do is they would go and hide with the mothers and the children to use them as a human shield. Hundreds would die for the sake of one or two. They were all children and all elderly. They were in their 70s and 80s or younger than 10. Daesh would take over the second floor of a building while civilians hid on the first and third floors.” Read the rest of the story.

Note: I wrote this article for God Reports, so I showcase my writing here.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern need to live

rosencrantz-and-guildenstern-are-dead-In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unwittingly betraying their childhood friend, Hamlet, and playing into the hands of the usurper Claudius, who by killing Hamlet’s father and marrying Hamlet’s mother seized the throne of Denmark. Hamlet appeals to them to remain loyal to him, but since they’re sycophants, they fawn over the king and don’t perceive his treachery.

So Hamlet kills them summarily.

They were — unknowingly — escorting Hamlet to his death in England. Hamlet opens the letter sealing his fate while his friends sleep on the boat from Denmark. Needless to say, Hamlet doesn’t appreciate them being his conduit to death (the letter orders England, a vassal state in the play, to execute Hamlet). So Hamlet rewrites and reseals the letter changing the object of execution to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet himself changes ship and boards a pirates’ vessel and heads back to Denmark while his comrades continue onward to their death in England.

Was Hamlet wrong to kill his buddies? Shakespeare leaves his audience with the sense that they got what they deserved.

But where Shakespeare leaves his audience happy with their death, Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead picks up their cause. Because they acted unknowingly, they deserved life.

Of course Stoppard is describing his existential cosmovision, a bleak view that life is meaningless, death inevitable and destiny cruel. I don’t share his vacuum view of leadership, but I heartily applaud his taking up the cause of the anonymous, the defenseless, the voiceless.

Every life is valuable. None should be disposed of because of convenience. One person cannot assign importance — or lack thereof — to another human being. God has instilled incalculable value to every human being.

Fear or faith?

unexpected-guestsPerfect love casts out fear — 1 John 4:18.

Running away from evangelism is what has made things run amok in the world. We Christians have abdicated our responsibility for too long. We can blame ourselves, not the politicians, for the problems of the world. Now we should not run to them looking for solutions that only we can provide.

Love is a choice. Fear is a knee-jerk reaction. We must choose to follow the Spirit lest we follow the flesh. The first Christians risked being thrown into the arena to be eaten by starved savage animals. We cannot expect a riskless Christianity. There is no drone Christianity where we direct evangelism from afar without putting boots on the ground. We haven’t wanted to go to the souls; now we don’t want the souls to come to us.

The days of isolationism are over, like it or not.

ISIS releases 200 women from sexual slavery, including a 9-year-old whose pregnant from her captors

Yazidi women (not necessarily related to the story)

Yazidi women (not necessarily related to the story)

A raped and pregnant 9-year-old girl is among 200 Yazidi captives released by Islamic State fighters in an attempt to demoralize their enemies in northwestern Iraq, the Star world news reported.

Since last summer when the Islamic State rampaged onto the world scene, its jihadists massacred the men and subjected women to rape, forced marriage, torture and enslavement. After eight months suffering barbarism, the women and girls have wandered back to their relatives. They are traumatized and humiliated.

The 9-year-old is the youngest victim, according to international workers at refugee camps.

“This girl is so young she could die if she delivers a baby,” aid worker Yousif Daoud told the Star. “Even a caesarian section is dangerous. The abuse she has suffered left her mentally and physically traumatized.”

[Editor’s Note: Please forgive the horrific content, but I include it because I wrote it for God Report’s and because awareness is part of the solution. To read the rest of the story, click here.

He was just a tyke at Lighthouse when I taught there. Now he’s a hero.

saving Iraqi refugeesAs a scout for the U.S. Marines 4th Light Armored Battalion, Tyler Smith is no stranger to weapons. But now in Iraq on a dangerous mission near the Islamic State war, the Santa Monica resident is completely unarmed.

Tyler, who studied and worked in Santa Monica, is currently deployed in Iraq with Operation Soul Shepherd helping refugees. He and seven other men as part of an advance team are setting up a safehouse for women and girls who have been raped by ISIS jihadists.

“I couldn’t let myself sit at home doing nothing while people here were suffering so immensely,” said Tyler. “I CAN help, so there’s no reason not to. I’m just a man trying to do the right thing. I’m not a hero.”

Not everyone agrees with his self-effacing.

“Every one of these guys are heroes,” said Paul Neier, founder of Mississippi-based non-profit that fights human-trafficking. “They made made a choice to go into harm’s way. The craziest thing about this is they are in the belly of the beast. They have no weapons to defend themselves.”

Read the rest of the article.