“I felt my world crumble at the age of 15 when my mother passed away,” Eun-Young says. As the oldest sibling, left with no parents, the weight of providing for herself was heavy. “From then on, I had to be the head of the family,” she says.
Left to fend for herself after her mother passed away, Eun-Young depended on the kindness of friends just to find food each day.
Engulfed in hardships inside North Korea, Eun-Young ran a seafood trading business three days a week and went to school when she could. “Balancing my studies and work was not easy, but I couldn’t abandon either.” Life seemed a constant struggle.
As a teenager, Eun-Young made the extraordinary decision to defect from North Korea. Under the darkness of night, she crossed the Tumen River into China—a dangerous choice that could lead to imprisonment if caught.
But after her escape, she became a victim of a dark industry that impacts many North Korean women in China. The people she trusted to help her get out of North Korea also became her kidnappers. “Human traffickers sold me to a Chinese man who is unable to speak. I didn’t realize it at first, but after three days I found out that he was speechless and deaf,” recounts Eun-Young.
“Once again, I felt my world crumble,” she says, her voice faltering. The escape she sought felt more like a prison.
The dream of a better life soon warped into a nightmarish reality. But later she would give birth to a son who became her beacon, a promise of purpose. “Having lived without a mother, I decided that my son wouldn’t have to go through what I did.”
Eun-Young’s main priority became avoiding repatriation to North Korea, where defectors face torture, imprisonment and even execution. According to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, an estimated 50-80% of repatriated women are victims of sexual violence in detention centers.
Eun-Young lived in constant fear: “I dreamed of being chased every night, and every single day, I was in psychological pain.”
To blend in, she took up a job at a clothing store. “When I first entered, I was criticized for my broken Chinese.” Language was a barrier, but she persevered, finding solace in Chinese TV shows, dramas and mimicking subtitles. “Through my efforts, my Chinese improved,” she shares with pride.
Yet, underlying these challenges was her stateless status. “I always lived in fear,” Eun-Young confesses. But God had a different plan.
While secretly browsing the internet, Eun-Young saw a South Korean film depicting a defector’s escape. She reached out for help and soon connected with an underground network of Christians. While in China, she heard from a South Korean pastor who introduced her to God’s Word and the potential of a new life in South Korea. Her transit, through Thailand, became her spiritual oasis. She recalls, “During my three months there, studying the Bible, I found God.”
Tears filled her eyes when discussing her time in Thailand. “When I first found God, I cried uncontrollably. I wanted to tell my Heavenly Father of all the hardships I had endured.” And when she read 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”—a calm enveloped her. She found herself distributing copies of the New Testament and preaching God’s Word to other North Koreans in Thai immigration, hoping they too would find solace.
When she reached South Korea, economic stability was vital. Using her Chinese linguistic skills, she found a job catering to Chinese tourists. “I served as an interpreter and translator,” she says.
While her professional journey flourished, Eun-Young was torn by the challenges faced by her son. “He suffered when he first came to Korea, unable to speak the language.” But her son’s resilience echoed hers, and within six months, he could converse in Korean.
“In North Korea, my dream was merely to eat. In China, it was not to be sent back.” And now, in South Korea, her dream is to follow God.
Eun-Young’s journey is emblematic of the resilience of North Korean Christians. From the tumultuous landscapes of North Korea to the bustling streets of South Korea, her story is not just about survival, but trusting God and persevering through extreme trials—through the prayer and support of Christians around the world.
Though her life remains challenging, Eun-Young holds onto her faith: “Without God I cannot do anything. God alone is my rock and my shepherd. I will continue to hold onto God’s hand and cling to God in order to live, and I will live a life of walking with God wherever I go. I think God gave me the power and self-esteem to live. Because I’m the daughter of God, I can be confident anywhere.”
Eun-Young now dreams of becoming a missionary to her homeland, bringing the hope she’s found to others living in despair. “There are people who don’t know God,” she says. “I want to let them know the truth.”
We’re inspired by Eun-Young’s story, as she escaped both North Korea and human trafficking. Now a flourishing Christian, she is boldly sharing her love of Christ with others. Join us in praying for our brave sister now.
Lord, thank You for Eun-Young and her precious story. We can’t imagine the horrors and trials she’s faced, but we’re grateful You rescued her. Please continue to work in her life and provide new opportunities for her to thrive. Help her to be the best mother she can be to her child. And work in her life that she’ll be able to share Your love with others in North Korea who were just like her. Amen.
About the author
Brian O. is a journalist for Global Christian Relief where he shares the courageous stories of the persecuted with the worldwide Church. Get the latest blogs and prayer requests at GlobalChristianRelief.org.