Hannah Kim, a friend of mine from church, wrote this guest post for my blog about her interest in North Korean refugees. Please read and join her in praying for this people group.
I just came back from a rejuvenating weekend in the hills of Virginia – the annual retreat for a ministry called Durihana USA that assists North Korean refugees as they resettle in the States. This year was the fourth year that I’ve attended the retreat as a volunteer, and it is such a privilege to see now-familiar faces of North Korean brothers and sisters who have traversed many miles to be there. But what astounds me are the individual stories of how they left their homeland, crossed many countries, and experienced much heartache in the process. Each story is different, but each story has providentially found its way to the United States.
The name “Durihana” means “two become one” and refers to Ezekiel 37:16-17, where the prophet is instructed by the Lord to grasp two sticks in one hand, a gesture that symbolized the reconciliation of divided Israel. This theme of restoration is something that is so needed for the individuals in this group (many people-groups--actually, all of us!). I think about how each person has experienced significant suffering and how hearts need mending. On the larger scale, I think about the fact that Korea is still a divided nation.
The peninsula of Korea has been divided since the Korean War (1950-1953) and technically the two countries are still at war. The Korean conflict ended with a stalemate but there was never actually a peace treaty. Some people call the Korean War the Forgotten War because it didn’t garner much press and the general public doesn’t know much about it.
As I’ve gotten to know some of these North Koreans, I can’t help but get the feeling that they also may feel forgotten. Misunderstood, at least. Adjusting to a new country is stressful on so many different levels – and when you can’t speak or be understood, you naturally turn inward and feel more alienated. I talked to one of the teenagers who came to America five years ago, who shared how kids would bully him at school for not speaking English. Even his teacher threw hurtful remarks at him for being from North Korea.
He told me about how over the summer he went on a group tour of the U.S. with other North Korean youth, and there he responded to a call to confess his sin and turn to God. He said he doesn’t quite understand what his decision meant, but he tells me his role model is Jesus and he wants to understand. I asked him if he had any good memories in North Korea and he told me no. His story is marked by suffering and loss that no child should go through. I told him about God’s promise in Jer. 29:11 – despite his difficult journey from North Korea to America, God has good plans for him and a special purpose for his life. He said he had never heard this before. Please pray that his relationship with God would grow and that he would experience healing.
I spoke with another older North Korean man who just arrived in the States just a few months ago. He said he’s been to church a couple times but it’s hard for him to accept the message (that day the pastor spoke about prayer). His education taught him to be self-reliant, and that he should work hard to get ahead. He said he’s not ready to think that he needs other people’s help…why then would he pray? We asked him, have you tried praying? Please intercede that many hearts would be softened to the message of the Gospel.
When I first became interested in North Korea in college, it was a far-off and inhuman place to me. When I thought of North Korea I thought about the politics, the media coverage, the prison camps and malnourished children. It was very cerebral. I thought about how I could intellectually understand the situation, and protest in a big, noisy way. But these days I’m thinking about the individual stories that are forgotten, the hearts behind the statistics. Young North Korean moms who are raising babies in a new environment, or students who diligently strive to earn a GED through evening classes after working a full-time job. The quiet lives of people struggling to adjust to the States, mostly separated from their families, working menial jobs and attending ESL classes.
Please pray for the 30 or so North Koreans (from newborns to people in their 50s) who attended this year’s retreat – that Jesus would become real to them. The gospel is bearing fruit in some of their lives, and in others the seed has fallen on shallow or rocky ground. But God is doing a work in this small North Korean community he’s brought to the U.S. I believe he has appointed many in this group to carry the message to people that no one else can reach.
Photo: Hannah Kim in the China/North Korea border city of Tumen.