Jong-su grew increasingly nervous as she sped away from the North Korean border in the smuggler’s vehicle. She had crossed the Yalu River into China the previous night, after her boyfriend had threatened to report her illegal trading business because she had rejected his marriage proposal. If convicted of illegal trading in North Korea, she faced the possibility of 15 years to life in a concentration camp. Although Jong-su also had a legitimate job, the devastating famine that had begun in 1993 as well as her country’s poor economic policies meant she had to earn additional money illegally or starve.
“Leave the country for two years,” her mother insisted, hoping Jong-su could return after her boyfriend got over his anger. Taking her mother’s advice, Jong-su turned to the only person she knew who could help her — a next-door neighbor who was in the smuggling business. The neighbor assured her that she could arrange to smuggle her into China and that Jong-su could live near the North Korean border so she could occasionally see her mother.
In addition to leaving her family behind, Jong-su was sacrificing the honor of singing for Kim Jong Il twice a year in Pyongyang. Her success in local and regional singing contests at age 6 had won her the opportunity to sing for the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, and later for his son, Kim Jong Il, well into her adult years.
Nightmare in the Morning
After crossing safely into China, Jong-su’s neighbor snapped a photo of her. “Why did you take my photo?” she asked. “I will send it to your mother so she won’t worry about you,” her neighbor replied. Satisfied with the answer, Jong-su fell asleep that night in the house where they had stopped near the border.
The next morning, the smugglers’ plans had changed. She told Jong-su that Chinese police were in the area and they had to act fast. As Jong-su and several others sped away from the border with the smugglers, she began to grow anxious. “This is not what we agreed to,” she protested. But their threatening reply caused even more anxiety. “If you don’t be quiet, we will sell you to a brothel,” they said.
Six hours later, Jong-su was dropped off in front of a small mud hut that belonged to a Chinese man. Her stomach sank as she realized that she had been sold as a wife to this man and that she might never see her mother again.
The sudden change in circumstances was more than she could handle. She didn’t speak Mandarin, and the man didn’t speak Korean. She also knew that her chances of escape were very slim. As a North Korean in China without an ID card, she couldn’t travel by train or bus and couldn’t read the signs or ask for help.
Jong-su decided that her only hope was to learn Mandarin and get to know her husband. Then, she thought, he might have compassion for her and be persuaded to let her return home. But that plan dissolved months later when she learned that she was pregnant. Even if her husband allowed her to leave, she couldn’t imagine raising a child alone.
Shortly after arriving in China, Jong-su met other North Korean women who, like herself, had been sold as wives. One of them introduced her to a South Korean woman who gave her a Bible and began sharing the gospel with her. The words she read in the books of Matthew and Romans touched her heart, and she placed her faith in Christ. It was the first time she had ever felt freedom in her heart.
Full of joy from her newfound Christian faith, Jong-su immediately began telling other trafficked women from North Korea about Jesus. Her Chinese husband noticed great changes in her behavior — she stopped yelling at him — and Jong-su, in turn, noticed how much joy their daughter had brought to her husband and his parents. Soon, her husband also placed his faith in Christ.
Jong-su and her husband began working together to share the gospel with trafficked North Korean women and their Chinese husbands. While she taught the women, he reassured their husbands that Jong-su was not encouraging their wives to leave them. He explained that their wives should listen to Jong-su because following Christ means respecting parents, bringing unity to the family and loving each other. Many of the women and their husbands have come to Christ through their faithful witness.
“I Can Die at This Moment”
While Jong-su was happy that she had found her eternal purpose, she still missed her mother. Knowing that brokers will do almost anything for money, she found one who was able to locate her mother and, in time, connect them by telephone. When she spoke with her mother, she was shocked to learn that she, too, had become a Christian.
“God helped us find our daughter!” her mother shouted joyfully when they spoke on the phone.
“Don’t talk so loud!” Jong-su replied. “You will get into trouble.” But her mother wasn’t worried. “God responded to my prayer,” she said. “Now I can die at this moment.”
Soon after the phone call, Jong-su’s mother was exiled to the countryside. Authorities were punishing the family because they realized Jong-su had fled the country. But Jong-su was able to find her mother again, and her mother discovered that 30 other Christians live in her new village and worship in the nearby mountains. “They pretend to get vegetables from the mountain, and they all meet together,” a VOM worker explained. When Jong-su learned that her mother had only one page of a Bible, she arranged for a broker to smuggle her a complete Bible.
Today, Jong-su uses her singing voice to glorify the Lord instead of the “Great Leader.” She rewrote the songs that she had sung to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to reflect a Christian message, and she performs them on VOM-supported short-wave radio broadcasts that reach into North Korea.