Pil-Soo (43) and Eun-Yeong (32) fled from North Korea and came to know Jesus Christ in China. They are two people who, like believers all over the world, are commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ this season. The Son of God was born in a stable. There was no place for Him in the inn and Herod wanted to kill Him. For Christians like Pil-Soo and Eun-Yeong, there is no place in today’s world either. Soon it will be Dec. 25 for them too. What does their Christmas look like?
Pil-Soo switches off the alarm of his cell phone and carefully puts the device back on the nightstand. The old Samsung phone is his doorway to North Korea, the only way to reach his family directly in his homeland. With his thumb he dials the phone number, but he doesn’t press the green call button. Calling is too dangerous. His parents have to call him. Pil-Soo’s Bible is already opened on the kitchen table. While he tastes his cold noodles, he reads the Gospel according to Matthew. When he reaches the murder of the children in Bethlehem, he sees images of children’s corpses in the city where he came from in North Korea. They died from malnutrition and diseases. The small pointer of the clock passed the number 9. Time to walk to the church.
Like every other morning, Eun-Yeong wakes up early. The weak light of the fluorescent tube reflects against the steel ceiling of the barracks. The cold draft tries its best to pierce through Eun-Yeong’s thin blanket and overalls. Eun-Yeong wants to get out of bed, kneel and open the day with prayer, like she used to do. It is still pretty dark. Probably nobody would see her. But she stays in bed. Every second she can rest, counts. It is better to pray in bed. Before she has uttered a word to God, a scene imposes itself in her mind. In it, she stands at the head of the dining table. Her first husband, her 18- and 12-year-old daughters and sons of 10 and 9 years chattered cheerfully, while they enjoyed an abundant meal consisting of soup, rice, vegetables and meat. Next to Eun-Yeong’s plate lay the Bible from which they have just read. Eun-Yeong squeezes her eyes and the tears flow over her cheeks. It is a memory of an evening that never took place.
When he enters, Pil-Soo greets the other visitors with a polite “Annyung-hae-seo.” He finds a spot in the back of the church, in a corner that usually stays empty. When Pastor Choi enters, he nods to his North Korean visitor. It is a nod of mutual understanding. Except for Choi, nobody in this Chinese-Korean church knows anything about Pil-Soo’s background. Pil-Soo rubs the velvet chair next to him. Would next year his aged father and mother sit here? Is there still time to tell them about the second coming of the Son of Man and the sacrifice he gave for Pil-Soo, and many others? He has to spend most of his day in prayer today, to ask God to enable his parents to survive the next winter. Choi gestures to the people that they should rise for the first song.
Other images flash through Eun-Yeong’s mind. She sees her oldest daughter and herself at the grave of her first husband. Then follow memories of crossing the river to China, the kidnapping by human traffickers, a forced marriage to a Chinese alcoholic, the birth of three children, the drowning accident that killed her 12-year-old daughter, the sudden appearance of her now grown-up North Korean daughter in China, and finally her own arrest. She squeezes her eyes even tighter and tries to focus on beautiful memories. Like the moment she finally started to understand the Bible, and the conversations she had with her children about Jesus Christ. She knows: One day she will sit with them at one table.
Pil-Soo excuses himself from some other churchgoers and wriggles through the crowd to the exit. He has to skip the Christmas meal. He has grown very fond of the Christians in this congregation, but he cannot speak openly about his past. Social contacts are risky. He has to spend Christmas day alone. Maybe his parents will call today. If they call, could he tell them about the birth of the Savior? Too dangerous. Besides, they would not understand him. Pil-Soo lifts his eyes up to the sky. “When will You come back, Lord?”
The other fluorescent tubes are switched on and wake up all the other prisoners. Without a moment of consideration, everybody gets out of bed. Not Eun-Yeong. She hesitates. This moment between waking up and getting out of bed is for her and the Lord God. For in that short moment she is free and holds her children in her arms. Maybe she will never see them again in this life. But one thing for sure the guards cannot take from her: her faith in the Son of Man, Who came into the world to save everyone. He will wipe away all the tears from her eyes.
This article is based on true persons and situations among North Koreans in China. Pil-Soo is cared for in an Open Doors safe house, where he receives Bible study. Eun-Yeong is kept prisoner in an unknown labor camp. The church takes care of her children in China. Will you pray for them and the thousands of other Christians in North Korea – the number one persecutor of Christians according to the Open Doors World Watch List – this Christmas?
Jerry Dykstra is the director of media relations for Open Doors USA.
Publication date: December 22, 2011