One of our central purposes at Seoul USA is to attempt to give you unmediated access to the words and thoughts of North Korean Christians when they are simply being, rather than being interviewed–say, for Western Christian publications. Testimonials in Western publications are not unimportant or inherently unhelpful, but neither are they representative. It is simply the case that we all talk differently when we speak to outsiders.
That is why I’m delighted to share with you the following nine letters, each written by one of our North Korean defector Underground University (UU) students to North Korean refugees entering Thailand (and thus freedom) on their defection journey across China on the way to South Korea.
Such freedom is relative, of course: North Korean refugees entering Thailand are entering detainment facilities–prisons–where they await transport to South Korea. The waiting period can last months. The prisons can be hot and crowded. There is little if anything to do but wonder about things like: What will my life be like in South Korea? What about those I have left behind in North Korea? Have I made the right choice? Why did I survive when others did not?
It is to these questions that the UU students address themselves, sharing from their own experience and theological orientation. There is rich, profound imagery and insight packed into each word. Enjoy now what North Koreans say to other North Koreans when they are not smiling for the camera but rather simply trying to help each other hang on just a little bit longer.
Dear fellow countrymen who have crossed the death line seeking God’s protection in the Republic of Korea,
I am so thankful that you have left North Korea and that you are now on your way to South Korea with God’s purpose and with His love.
Though you might have many difficulties now, remember that God is protecting you and guiding your way, just as he guided the Israelites with the pillar of fire and cloud. Please pray earnestly to God and come to him when he answers your prayer.
Life in South Korea is not easy either, but I would like to tell you to live joyfully and to be blessed by God as you seek him and wait for the eternal world, the kingdom of God.
From your friend who has come to South Korea ahead of you.
Dear countrymen for whom I long,
I would like to greatly congratulate you, who successfully escaped from the North. I am eagerly looking forward to seeing you soon even though I have lived far away from my home and family.
I believe that God guided me to safely arrive in South Korea. When I began to believe in faith that God was with me, my life became happy. I hope you also accept God as your father and arrive in South Korea as soon as possible.
My dear brothers and sisters, do not think that God does not exist because we cannot see Him. Remember that he is always with us and live courageously! Blessed are the believers.
Dear brothers and sisters,
I sincerely congratulate you, who crossed the river to save your lives, although you had to leave behind your family and friends in the North.
My name is XXX, and I left North Korea three years ago. Like you, I also passed through the unpaved way and finally arrived in the land of freedom and into God’s arms.
God my heavenly father not only delivered me from the Kim family’s evil dictatorship but also let Jesus, his only Son, sacrifice for me and die for my sin.
I do not think I need to explain these things any further to you, as I am sure that you felt the same things yourself and realized this truth when you arrived in this new land. But I would like to emphasize to you that only God is our father and he loves you. I am sure that you will live your life well when you arrive in the South.
Dear fellow countrymen,
I sincerely congratulate your bold decision to leave the North and I deeply appreciate you for it. I think the result of your right decision is that you will live in the generous heart of the Republic of Korea without worries. That is because you will arrive in the country where you can enjoy happiness and freedom. South Korea is a Christian country whose people believe in and follow God. God gives South Koreans freedom and only leads them in a happy way. I hope you arrive in South Korea soon so that we may enjoy God’s love together! I am looking forward to seeing you soon.
From your companion, who believes and follows God.
Dear fellow countrymen who are in a prison,
My lovely countrymen, please cheer up! I totally understand that you had no choice but to leave the North, which is a horrible place to live. Though we North Koreans have been brainwashed into believing that Kim Il Sung is our only father and chieftain, we have to try to overcome that brainwashing and find happiness in South Korea.
In North Korea, we were required to say that Kim Jong Un was our father, but here in South Korea, God is my only father, and no one can tell me not to believe in him. If we ever said a word of complaint about the president in North Korea, our lives would end in a concentration camp. But in South Korea, you can be blessed to overflowing when you believe in God with all your heart, and I hope that you will enjoy that blessing, as I am now. After you arrive in South Korea, set your mind at ease to accept South Korea as your country.
From an honest child of God
Dear brothers and sisters who are dwelling in Thailand for a while,
I am one who has arrived in South Korea ahead of you and now live happily in God’s arms. I thought my life was driven by my own thoughts and desires. However, I came to meet and believe in God in South Korea and realized that God is the manager of my life, not me.
God loves us and gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to the world and let Jesus sacrifice himself for our sins. We cannot see or hear God, but God is around us as a spirit. God who loves you also listens to your prayers, so pray to God in faith.
Dear ones who are suffering,
I do not have enough tears to shed for all our sufferings. I am writing to you who are from the poorest country with no freedom, who left your hometown to gain freedom.
Even though the way ahead of you is unpaved and narrow, please do not give up but look to the sky and remember God who is helping you. Please be courageous and firmly stand to get the victory until you successfully arrive in South Korea, a paradise. Take care.
Dear beloved and honorable countrymen,
My name is XXX, and I am learning the knowledge of God at UU. I graduated from HANAWON [Refugee Resettlement Center in South Korea] in 2006, and it has already been over 8 years since I settled down in Seoul. I also lived for 3 months in Bangkok, Thailand with the support of a Korean church. While I stayed in Bangkok, I attended a worship service every Sunday and realized that God loves my family and guided us to South Korea. He let us stay in Bangkok for a while on our way to South Korea, though our families have sinned a lot. He finally brought our family members to South Korea and let us become citizens of South Korea. Now our families are living well as Christians and we are praying and learning the word of God.
I write to you as a person who went on a mission trip to Thailand. I think you and I have had the same experience of crossing the river to save our lives. I prayed as we crossed the Yalu River, and I want to tell you that God listened to our prayers and took care of us when we prayed to God in faith.
I came to visit you with the American missionaries. They made a long journey to meet you and I would not have been able to meet you without them. Please, show them your thanks.
In conclusion, I want to tell you that God is leading your way and life. And please, be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.
Thank you Pastor Foley for sharing these wonderful letters. I will share them with as many brothers and sisters that I can.
Great to hear, Susan! Nothing makes me happier than when we are able to share about North Korea through the voices of North Koreans.
It has often been pointed out that those who have walked a mile in someone who is in the valley of suffering and trouble know best the terrain. So, these letters of bearing each other’s burdens represent such to me. I have closely followed and prayed much for the ministry of SeoulUSA and all of you and UU ever since I first heard you speak in Boise ID at a VOM conference. It so held my heart and continues to do so.
Great to hear from you, Joe. How beautiful are the shoes of those who bring good news to those who walk thousands of miles in the valley of suffering!
That is someone’s shoes… to make my point understandable.
These letters have the true meaning of brotherly love. What an encouragement it must be!
Question- do the UU students get to actually meet the ones they are writing to?
Good question, Tim. This is the first time we have done letters like this, so we are hoping the answer will be yes! Let’s pray for it.