If you speak to me for any amount of time, you’ll learn I have a burden for the people of North Korea.
It started in college when I was helping to lead a campus chapter for International Justice Mission (IJM). I began to learn more about the darker sides of the world and the research of one issue would lead to the stumbling upon of another.
My introduction to the plight of the North Koreans happened while seeking out various documentaries regarding human rights abuses. Seoul Train, a film about North Korean refugees attempting to escape, and those attempting to help them, opened my eyes to the “Hermit Kingdom.”
Seven years later, I’ve read at least 25 books and viewed well over double that amount of documentaries and films regarding North Korea. The more I learn, the more burdened I become. I’ve listed some of the better ones at the bottom of this post. I highly encourage you to check them out for yourself.
Thankfully, there are organizations out there who are seeking to provide a way for people like you and me to make a difference.
I would like to highlight Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) as one of these organizations.
Liberty in North Korea does an incredible job of holistically going after the problem. Not only do they seek to rescue refugees, they also help with the resettlement process. As if that isn’t enough, they globally raise awareness by “changing the narrative” of people’s perception when hearing the words “North Korea.”
At this juncture, please visit this portion of their website to see an overview of all the challenges these people face.
Leaving one’s hometown without proper permission and paperwork is a criminal offence in North Korea, punishable by a stay in one of their prison camps (think concentration camps of World War II). Can you imagine the consequences of leaving the country? Immediate execution. Or, a stint in one of the camps, torture, then execution.
On top of that, there are “brokers” from China who seek to help by charging an astronomical fee to get the refugee to a safe country of their choice. The tricky thing here is not being taken advantage of. In the rural areas of China, the number of marriageable women is extremely low and these brokers are often just human traffickers looking to con women into being sold to bachelor farmers. Thus, these women and children are trapped in a new way.
LiNK raises all of the necessary money for getting a refugee to a safe country by collecting donations from people like you and me. This is one of the awesome ways we can help! Visit this link on their page to see all the ways your money can be put to use.
Resettling a North Korean in South Korea or the US is far more complex than it might seem. Not only do they need some time to simply decompress and deprogram, they need to replace what they’ve been told with truth.
Truth, they say, will set you free. For a North Korean, it sometimes has the opposite effect.
What if you came from a country where electricity was a luxury, not to mention computers, phones, radios, dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators, vending machines, ATMs?
Even in South Korea, there is a language barrier for the refugees. North Korea has been closed off for so long that now, a citizen’s vocabulary is outdated in many ways when compared with a South Korean. Outdated, and also insufficient to describe and discuss the day-to-day of modern society. If resettled in the US, a North Korean is faced with the conflicting emotions of learning the language of their “greatest enemy” (as they’re taught from infancy that Americans inherently are).
As for education and work skills, these are limited to studying the history of the great leaders and the country of North Korea, as well as manual labor. To a North Korean, history has been completely re-written. “America started the Korean War.” “The rest of the world is suffering under unjust and tyrannical rulers.” They are taught that North Koreans are the “lucky ones.”
There are plenty of other examples for why resettlement is often a traumatic time for a refugee. LiNK’s website does an excellent job laying those out.
Changing the Narrative
Society has generally reduced their impressions of North Korea to nuclear warfare and crazy dictators. There is a dire need to globalize the awareness of the true plight for this people group. LiNK does powerful work toward making this change happen. For some, financial support just isn’t in the cards right now. But, you still care and want to help. Why not find ways to partner with raising awareness about the issues?
As a college student, when the chapter for IJM wanted to raise awareness, we would host a documentary screening on campus. Perhaps your church would let you use their facility for something like this?
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What about getting really ambitious and starting a support group in your area. You could meet monthly or quarterly, focus on discussing the issues, pray, brainstorm ways to share with the community.
I don’t know. Do something, though! I mean, we constantly say “never forget” with regard to the Holocaust. And we shouldn’t. Ever. But why do we say that? Isn’t it at least partly because we don’t want to let something like that happen again? Well it is! Now! If that bothers you, then please find a way to get involved.
- Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demmick
- The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-hwan
- Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
- Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim
- The Hidden People of North Korea by Kongdan Oh and Ralph C. Hassig
- Somewhere Inside by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling
- Vice: Inside North Korea
- Seoul Train
- Camp 14 – Total Control Zone (used to be on Netflix. Might be tough to find)
- Yodok Stories
- Under the Sun (available on Netflix)