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Long read: My father disappeared

January 4, 2016

Hee Young* is from North Korea. She has an incredible, painful story involving three generations of her family. Unusually for a North Korean deliver, both the family of her father and mother had a long Christian heritage. Because of this they were banished to a small village in one of the northern provinces in North Korea.

The family began holding secret worship meetings. Hee Young’s grandmother was the leader of the secret network. “All other believers had been banished to this area in the past. People stayed in our house during the weekend and worshiped together.”

The risk of arrest was still very real. “This is why the other children and I needed to stand watch. We played outside and as soon as someone came near to the house, we ran home to warn everybody and all the adults went to their rooms, pretending they were just resting.”

Because of the many sudden and random house searches, the Bibles in the family’s possession were hidden. There were three Bibles in the house. One Chinese Bible, one Bible in Korean (translated from Chinese and written by hand by the grandmother) and one Korean Bible they had received from a Chinese friend. All Bibles had a paper cover with images of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

All change

Life was going well for young teenager Hee Young, but that changed after Kim Il-Sung died in the summer of 1994. Surveillance increased, people were being monitored more closely and it was safer if the Christian ‘guests’ just stayed home. “This alerted one of the officials in our village,” says Hee Young. “He must have wondered why all of a sudden we didn’t receive as many visitors anymore.

“He came to watch our house every day. My father noticed him and said during dinner: ‘I am being watched. We must be more careful and hide our Bibles better.’ That was all. We were not afraid or nervous. We just needed to be more careful.”

Several months later, Hee Young said goodbye to her father and the rest of the family and went to school. “It was such a normal day. When I came back, I opened the door and expected to see my father. He always came to the door to meet me. He did not come this time. Instead I saw the house was ransacked. I had never seen such chaos.

“I went to my father’s office, because I wanted to see him and hear from him what had happened. He wasn’t there anymore. I knew there had been a secret worship meeting earlier that day. I ran back to the living room and asked the other family members where Dad was. My mother spoke with me in a calm voice, but her eyes were red and swollen. ‘Four agents from the National Security Agency raided our house. They confiscated one of the Bibles and arrested father.'”


Like the others, Hee Young was interrogated by the police. “I just told them I didn’t know anything, and that I was too young to know what my father was up to. The officers asked me if I ever saw him reading the Bible. I replied that he read books and assumed he was working. I was determined to not give them any information they could use to charge my father with.”

“It was then that I realised that God had prepared this place for us. He turned evil to good, just as in the story of Joseph and his brothers.”


Hee Young’s grandmother died not long after her father’s arrest. It was a tough time – they knew the police would come back to question the whole family again. But it wasn’t as they expected.

After three years, the family was informed they had to move to another area. “I think they took their time to arrest as many Christian families as possible in those days. We were very lucky. God protected my mother and us. She had a slightly better status than my father and I think God used it. We were not imprisoned, but banished to a small village.

“It was then that I realised that God had prepared this place for us. He turned evil to good, just as in the story of Joseph and his brothers.”

Life was not easy though. There were only a few dozen houses in the village and spies and informants were everywhere. Houses were bugged with listening devices. “Speaking freely was impossible inside our house. We could only talk openly outside when we were absolutely sure nobody was near. It was a hard time and we needed comfort too. My sister wrote down all the Bible passages she had memorised and buried her papers in the woods. Whenever she needed comfort, she would dig them up and read the verses.”


Ten years had passed when a stranger knocked on the door every day for a whole week. “We did not trust him and sent him away each time, but he insisted he knew a Chinese pastor who had met my grandmother. ‘If you don’t trust me, please talk to him on the phone.’ At the end of the week, we gave in. I would travel with this man to a mountain top from where we had reception with a Chinese mobile network.

“He dialled the pastor and we spoke together. He knew many details about our life and was able to convince me he was reliable. He asked about our current living conditions, and then he said: ‘I recently heard you were banished ten years ago. That’s why I sent someone to find you. Please come to China and see some of the world.”

She discussed it with her mother. “I didn’t want to go. My other siblings were married. I had to take care of my mother, but she was very persistent. It was decided I would go to China first. The pastor had sent someone to take me to the border. When I left, I said to my mother: ‘I will settle down and then I will come back for you. Just stay alive!’

“I crossed the border river. The pastor and his wife were already waiting for me on the other side. I got in their car and we sped off. My feelings were very mixed. I was so relieved to get out of that severe surveillance system in my country, but I was worried for my family. They could get into trouble now that I had escaped.”

“In North Korea it is much clearer that there isn’t anything else we can depend on except for the power that comes from heaven.”

New life

Hee Young stayed in China for a couple of months and then travelled illegally to South Korea. All her family members were able to come out after her. “Within five years everybody was here. When I had received a South Korean passport I met my mother in China and she arrived in South Korea later. Both meetings were incredible, like I was living in the happiest dream possible.”

In South Korea, Hee Young married a South Korean pastor and together they have three children. They prepare themselves, and other North Korean refugees, to go back to North Korea one day.

What are the things Hee Young tries to teach her children and the North Korean refugees in Seoul? “Many times in my life I questioned God. Why did He allow such bad things to happen to our family? But God truly turned evil to good in my life. It’s a miracle I am in South Korea now. We should have been killed with my father, but instead God gave us back our life and now I experience freedom. I now look at the ordeal of my family and I see how God has moulded us and trained us to become better workers in His Kingdom. I am not afraid of anything. God has proved He is so faithful.”

And before her grandmother passed away she told Hee Young and the other family members not to worry. “‘We all have to die. We don’t belong to this world, we belong to heaven.’ I will never forget these words. We cannot take anything with us to heaven. I know. Here in South Korea and in other countries it may be difficult to live from a heavenly perspective. We have so much stuff. But in North Korea it is much clearer that there isn’t anything else we can depend on except for the power that comes from heaven.”

*Name changed for security reasons

Pray now…

  • For comfort and strength for the thousands of Christians in North Korea who are trapped in horrific labour camps or banished to isolated villages
  • For secret believers to have wisdom to know who to trust
  • For North Korea to be opened to the gospel one day soon.

We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.