Open Doors field worker Rebecca (not her real name) works with North Korean refugee women in China. All of them fell into the traps of human traffickers, who sell these women to brothels and Chinese men. China’s one child policy has led to a shortage of women and the poorest men often cannot find a bride – so they buy one. Often, these North Korean women are abused. Rebecca and field workers like her provide these women with pastoral care, Bible study and a little money so they can survive. This ministry is not without danger, but Rebecca is joyful. She planted, and the Lord has grown.
Rebecca was recently married and is now pregnant. Another field worker has taken over her role in the Chinese-North Korean border area. While we will miss her dedication on the field, it does provide her with an opportunity to be a little more open about her work.
Rebecca, what did your ministry with these North Korean ladies look like?
I worshiped God with them, studied the Word with them, and I provided them with what they needed. Those were the main projects. The meetings were mostly twice a month. I tried to teach them the Word itself. I lectured them from the Book of Genesis, step by step.
How do these women usually respond to God’s Word?
When the sisters first hear about the Word of God, they laugh at it, and they respond as if it were nonsense. But as they get to listen more and more to the verses and sermons, they become serious about the message. It was very difficult to teach them the message of the Word because in their minds, there are a mixture of ideas that they learned from their homeland which are against the teachings of Jesus, and that was why the sisters themselves said that the Word doesn’t come right into their hearts. They really want to believe it, but the messages from the Bible were so different from what they had learned so far, so it takes time for them to actually accept the Truth.
Rather than sitting there and persuading them with what I said, I let them accept that it takes time for them to change their thoughts. And when I did not stop teaching them biblical messages, one day they realized the Truth themselves, and their lives gradually changed.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered while working on the mission field?
The most difficult thing was to adjust to the field situation. As the sisters do not have any legal papers, they are illegal refugees from North Korea. Meeting those people itself is quite dangerous for me. Plus, our work is not very favorable to the Chinese government of the field area, so I needed to avoid all the possibilities that might put the ministry in danger, such as surveillance, and still meet the sisters. That was the most tricky and difficult part.
My mission was to take care of the North Korean sisters. The sisters endure such poor lives; some of them were manipulated during the process of coming out of their country, and many were trafficked into the Chinese families.
Those who are married to Chinese men stay as illegal immigrants. I would go to these women, tell them about God, and we would worship together, and study the Bible together. The sisters’ lives are truly difficult and harsh. They should be welcomed as a new family member but many of them are not. Instead, they are just treated as a means to deliver babies. Without legal identification, they cannot travel freely within China. They cannot do what they want. They are confined in the situation. As God allowed me to find the sisters in such situations, I would go and meet them; we worshiped God together, and I would teach them about the Word.
One sister I remember the most. Her husband was too old to support the family. She still needed to take care of their child, so she herself worked to make a living for the family. In such a desperate situation, she decided to go to South Korea. Another reason for going to South Korea was that she needed to earn a lot of money to bring another child of hers from North Korea, which costs a lot to pay the brokers.
She left the Chinese husband but was caught by the Chinese police. We lost contact. Having been caught by the Chinese police, there is always a great possibility that she might be sent back to North Korea. We were very much worried about her and we prayed a lot for her.
Thankfully, all the sisters in the Bible study group who prayed for her experienced relief when they prayed for her, and me as well. We felt peace in our hearts whenever we prayed. It was like God told us she would be released. That was the answer to our prayers.
We were able to contact the police and they said that we didn’t need to worry. But the situation lasted for months without us being able to contact her. Eventually, God released her from the police and let her return to her family. Although she was not able to achieve what she had planned, she returned to her family, and she’s doing well now.
Were there more difficult moments?
There were quite a lot of difficult moments, especially when I needed to go to faraway places to meet those sisters. They live far away from where I live. [To travel to them safely], I needed to avoid using my identification card. That’s why I tried not to use buses or trains when traveling to the ministry areas, because passengers get checked all the time. I often used illegal cars to travel.
I know God protected me. There were a lot of times when I needed to travel alone. Those were such insecure moments, but all the time, God prepared the way for me. You know, the journeys to the areas were new every time. I had to get new transportation every time I went there.
Every time, I was able to get the means to travel, and there was not one accident or incident,
so I confess this was God’s amazing grace. Also, I was never caught by the Chinese police and was able to continue visiting the sisters. This proves that God protects the ministry.
How did it feel to begin this ministry?
I was very worried, and it was not so easy. At first, I didn’t have a clear picture of what the sisters would be like. I just thought very vaguely that they have experienced something harsh and difficult, and that they are different from me. But now, I say that they are just as much human beings as I am, and I just want to say that… they are so lovable.
Surely, I feel pity for them, but they are so lovely. They are God’s people, and just feeling pity for them is not enough. God looks for them, builds them, that’s who they are.
Has God given any fruit to your ministry?
The Chinese family members are often afraid that the North Korean wives will just run off. That’s one reason why they treat them badly. The North Korean ladies don’t behave well either. But oftentimes, the Chinese family members of the sisters say, ‘You have changed since you’ve been to the church.’
And during the worship services within the Bible study group, the sisters begin to sincerely pray for their families and their redemption. They started to ask for God’s heart when praying for their families. When I see those transformations, I feel so happy and proud of them.
[Sometimes] we help those underground believers [in North Korea] who are the sisters’ relatives, through our network in China. We receive their letters and news that they received the funds safely and they live on those funds to worship God. I feel very happy when I hear this news.
How do you pray for these North Korean women?
Firstly, I pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be abundant among the sisters, so that they will first see God’s glory and shine His glory right where they are. For example, some of them are housewives. I pray that they will be able to shine God’s glory to their families at home. Also to the neighbors and the people around them, I pray that the sisters will be able to show God’s beautiful character and love right where they are.
Moreover, I pray that beyond this confusing season, where we are not sure of what will happen between North and South Korea, and also China, I pray that the sisters will be prepared for the united Korea, and serve as powerful disciples of God when the time comes. That is my prayer point for the sisters.
What are some things you’ve said to the North Korean women?
I say things like:
“God is always with you.”
“He’s on your side. So cheer up.”
“Even when it’s pitch dark and you feel like you are all by yourself, Jesus Christ is holding your hand. Please don’t forget this Truth.”
“Please don’t think that you will just suffer and die like this.”
“Surely, God has his own plans for your life. Please remember this. Please remember this wherever you go, whatever you do.”
“Please remind yourself of God’s dream towards your life.”
This is my message for the sisters.
Which sister do you miss the most?
The sister I really miss is, ironically, the sister that I was the most suspicious about. My guess is that she was actually trained as a spy. This is just my speculation, but she acted suspiciously and she sometimes lied about her faith. But from one moment, she wasn’t that distant anymore. She engaged with us in the meetings and helped us with things. And slowly, she began to show who she really was. But she seemed to have cycles. Sometimes she was distant, sometimes she was close. One time she sounded like she truly believed in Jesus, but at other times she didn’t. Then I saw that she still had the faith in her. I wonder how she encounters God these days. I miss her a lot.
Are there also things you regret?
At first, when the sisters were talking about the hard things they were going through, I tried to discipline them with what I thought was right, but this may have rather given them even another hard time.
One of the sisters, now in South Korea, when she was complaining to me about her mom’s death, she kept letting herself stay within depressing feelings and self-pity. I always told her to get out of these dark emotions, get up and live as a Jesus follower, but now I think that I had to comfort and care for her feelings more than just disciplining them with what I thought was right. That’s the point I want to redo.
Do you have more examples of transformation?
At first, the sisters only talked to me about their own problems. They didn’t listen to others.
They were jealous of what the other person had and hated one another. They had a lot of conflicts and fights among them. But as time went by, the sisters changed, and they now know how to listen to others, how to comfort others and how to encourage others. This is the moment that I realized that Jesus really touched their hearts and taught them how to love.
Also, at first, the sisters were just into the sad, self-pitying feelings, but as time went by, as they encountered the Word of God more and more, they started to really pray for their own country. They prayed that churches will be built in the land and that North Korea will accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When I saw those transformations, I was very happy for the sisters. The Word of God surely changes the women in His good ways. Many women cheat on their husbands, many get into gambling, they do lots of bad things. Some women steal things, and some make money by prostitution. Many women are involved in such sinful acts, more than one can imagine. But when they continue to listen to the Word of God, they first realize that such things are something to be ashamed of. They never knew. As they get to know more about Jesus, they try not to be involved in such things anymore.
At first, all they wanted was to receive. They came to the Bible study meetings to get the funds. They wanted to be supported. But then when they kept listening to the Word of God and learned about God’s love, they started to help other sisters, comforting and encouraging them, and started to love them. That’s the moment I thought, “Wow, they really have changed.” I thank God for such transformation.