Trafficked woman finds hope amid despair

By April 27, 2015
(Photo courtesy Christian Aid Mission)

(Photo courtesy Christian Aid Mission)

China (CAM/MNN) — Thousands of North Koreans are refugees sneaking across the border to China. According to, two thirds of these refugees are women. And what do you think happens to them?

About 80% are trafficked.

Christian Aid Mission reported the story of *Mi-Hyeon Li who fled to China after her husband was killed by a coal mine collapse, and her son starved to death during North Korea’s 1990s famine.

In 1998, Li crossed the Tumen River into China with her sister. While trying to find correct directions, a Korean man approached and told them he could find well-paying work for them. Li said, “He offered us a hot, delicious meal in a place near his apartment. It was the meal we hadn’t had for a long time in my country. He gave a very kind first impression. We trusted in him and followed him to Yanji City, where we stayed in his place around a month.”

But they were tricked, trapped, and traded.

One night, five Korean-speaking men came to the apartment, saying the sisters were under arrest and would be repatriated to North Korea. They shoved Li into one car and threw her sister into a separate one. Continuously, Li asked where her sister was, but they told her to be quiet. Hours later, she and her captors arrived at a northern province train station.

“I kept asking where my sister was,” Li said. “They answered they didn’t know and told me they bought me, so I must follow them. They forced and threatened me. Since that night 18 years ago when I was separated from my sister, I have never heard any more of her. It has been so hard for me to survive without knowing where my sister is and how she is doing.”

Li’s captors sold her to a poor, Chinese paralytic for about $1,000. He took her as his wife to a remote farm village in an undisclosed northern province. Here, she was kept in a small, cramped house with the man’s sister, who constantly kept an eye on her. And, since Li didn’t know Chinese, she couldn’t take any requests.

Many times, she made attempts at running away, but Chinese police routinely made round-ups of North Koreans in accordance with a repatriation pact between the two nations. Rather then sending them back to China, they would imprison them and collect bail.

Each time she was arrested, her husband had to take out loans to pay the high-priced $650 bail money, which added up to around $10,000.

Li said, “I spent my time in those days worrying so much about the police and my sister’s whereabouts. This made me sick, and often they sent me to the hospital. But even so, I was able to give birth to a daughter. However, we couldn’t do anything about the loans that he made towards bailing me out.” Li tried to start chipping away the debt by selling tofu, despite not having any tofu-making machinery.

Initially, her daughter managed to attend school without legal status, but eventually she had to be registered as a legal resident in order to continue. They didn’t have enough money to obtain a legal status, so she had to drop out and begin working in a restaurant.

Wanting to make more of a dent in the debt, Li wanted to follow other North Korean women in the village who had left their children and “husbands” to find work in South Korea. But, her daughter tearfully begged her not to.

“She told me, ‘I will work hard for you to pay off the private loan, so don’t go. We can live here together in peace. Please don’t leave me alone,” Li said. “I couldn’t leave my daughter who loves me so much. If I had made up my mind to go to South Korea, then what would happen to my daughter and husband?”

The director of an area ministry reaching out to North Korean immigrants said the paralytic father of Li’s daughter could do nothing without Li’s help.

“Leaving him alone, he always caused problems, breaking his knees from falling on the ground,” said the director, known only as Suran. “Li had several chances to go to South Korea to receive a better life there, as many other North Korean women did, but she could not leave her daughter and the poor, sick paralytic behind, because they needed her.”

Li said she feels good now that she did not leave. And if she had, she would never have met Suran, also North Korean, who had also been trafficked and had settled in the area. Suran identified 90 other North Korean trafficked women in the area, and with assistance from Christian Aid Mission, is providing them with small-business loans, school tuition for their children, and help with legal costs.

Li said, “Suran was telling me that if I believe in Jesus and pray to the Lord, God would listen to us and we would be in peace. So I began to attend the church, and I became a witness to that. I saw my life making a transition, from miserable encounters to approaching hope.”

Suran said the ministry helped to obtain legal residency for Li’s now 15-year-old daughter. “I am praying with Li that the Lord may help her open a small store so that she can make some money to support them and a happy home in China. When I asked to receive her prayer list, Li told me she would need about $3,300 to open a small store.”

Li said the debt she owes to people is weighing heavily on her. “My life in China has been so hard, but now I’ve met Jesus. I like to believe Him and do my best to follow Him. I would pray to Him wherever I go, so that He may protect me all the way. One more wish that I have is that the Lord God may let my country be unified again so that we can go back to our home freely to see my brother and sisters again and tell them how good the Lord God is.”

Thousands of women like Li suffer everyday, and with your help they can find a brighter future. Help by clicking here, and type Provide Tofu Business Loan for NK Traffic Victims.

You may also call Christian Aid Mission at: 434-977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 836NKOW. Thank you!

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