Nari* and her younger sister grew up in North Korea during a severe famine. The girls sometimes went without food for 10 days. When life became unbearable, a woman promised them safe passage into China and smuggled the girls across the border.
When they arrived in China, the woman sold Nari and her sister to two Chinese men. The safety they had been promised was a lie.
“We were sold just like that,” Nari said. “She had no intention to help. She only wanted to make money off of us… The men who bought us never let us out.”
Nari lived in a rural area, 4km from her sister. The toilets were outside, and the men would follow the girls even when they had to relieve themselves.
Her sister’s husband treated her well, even though she had to work long hours on the farm. Nari’s husband was much more abusive. She worked 16 hours a day, sometimes more.
“We were forced to sleep with them at night too, because we could not resist or escape. My younger sister and I both became pregnant.”
All Nari knew about Christianity was what she had been taught at school. They told them bad stories about missionaries and that Christianity was harmful. But, growing up Nari’s grandmother was a secret believer.
“Every night, my grandmother washed herself and put on her neat ‘hanbok’. Then she went to her room or the backyard, where nobody could see her. There she prayed,” Nari said.
“At times, I felt so desperate. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that my grandmother’s prayers still covered me many years after her death.”
Image: A village in Northeastern China.
One day, when Nari was pregnant, she was arrested. If they decided to send her back to North Korea, Nari would be forced to abort her child.
“That night in prison, I suddenly remembered my grandmother prayers,” Nari said. “I was placed in a different cell. Other North Koreans were repatriated, but I was let go. It was a miracle.”
Even after her son was born, Nari continued to be exploited and abused.
“I did not starve as I was starving in North Korea, but I didn’t live the life of a human,” she said. “I laboured just like a cow or pig would. There was no [financial] compensation and I was beaten up once every two or three days.”
“My husband kept saying: ‘Because I bought you with money, and because you’re from North Korea, even if I kill you, nobody will arrest me.”
Nari thought death was the only way to relieve the pain. She emptied a bottle of pills into her hand, and was ready to swallow them. At precisely that moment her son walked in, crying out her name.
“Looking at my child, I realised that if I had died, he would have lost his mum,” Nari said. “I wasn’t a perfect mum, but still I could not leave him behind.”
Nari’s parents, other sister, and younger brother also escaped to China. Her mother was only 12kms from Nari’s home and they were able to get in contact.
Image: A church in China near the North Korean border.
“My mother, who was finally discovering the faith of my grandmother, took me to church. I listened to the hymns and they gave me so much peace. And when I listened to the sermon, I cried. I’ve got to live, I thought. The invisible God can help me. I don’t need to end my life when I can get His guidance.”
Nari wanted to go to church every Sunday, but her husband was against it. Nari snuck out to church as often as she could.
“It was very dangerous. Sometimes the police would come, surround the church and check everyone’s ID. We, as North Koreans, don’t have any ID cards. But it was the beginning of my faith.”
Without a Chinese ID card, Nari was always at risk of being arrested. She told her husband since he couldn’t get her an ID card, she would escape to South Korea. A lady from their church offered to help.
The journey out of China was very dangerous. She was driven across slippery mountains with deep ravines.
“The invisible God can help me. I don’t need to end my life when I can get His guidance.”
“I kept praying all the time. If we fell down, we would have all died,” she said.
They also had to take a small boat across a river full of crocodiles.
“I said to God, there are many crocodiles in the river and I pray that our boat won’t capsize or else we will get eaten by the animals. God answered all those prayers, and we arrived safely in Thailand.”
Image: Nari reading her Bible in South Korea.
A few months later, Nari was transferred to South Korea. She was the first of her family to arrive. The others arrived later and now her son lives with her in South Korea.
“I’m convinced my grandmother’s prayers saved me,” Nari said.
She continues to worship God and believes He always hears her prayers.
Every year Open Doors launches the World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the worst persecution. In the UK, we launch the list at a meeting of MPs at Westminster, using the opportunity to ask those in power to do all they can to make sure that freedom of religion or belief is upheld by governments around the world. Ask your MP to go to the meeting by using this simple form:
*Name changed for security purposes.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.