Growing up in North Korea, Seojun’s* focus was on survival. As well as his schooling, he had to work the land and sell herbs to try to make ends meet. He recalls roaming the countryside for vegetables, seeking food on the mountainside, often going hungry. That feeling of hunger - and the anxiety of possible starvation - haunted his early years.
"I had a very difficult time," he says. "I made every effort just to get a warm bowl of rice. I really put in a lot of effort. And I always used to wonder, 'How am I going to live a happy life with my family?'"
With the 1990s famine hitting North Koreans hard, Seojun heard that it might be possible to get food from China. Desperate and with nothing to lose, he decided to cross the Tumen River, enter China and bring back food for his family. Seventeen-year-old Seojun crossed the frozen river over the border with no belongings – only his school uniform and a winter jacket.
"At that time, so many people crossed. It was so common that there was even a path on the ice. It snowed very often and, when people walked on the snow, a path was created."
Every £59 could provide a monthly relief pack to keep a North Korean family alive during the freezing winter. This could include food, medicines, winter clothes, boots and blankets.
But life remained harsh in China, trying to find enough work while avoiding being caught and sent back to North Korea.
"I moved around looking for places to eat and looking for employers who could give me work to do. I lived in different places. I stayed on construction sites and at many other locations. I slept outside from time to time. And I had a small bundle of my belongings that I took everywhere. I worked as a logger and also as a quarryman. I worked night and day, but did not earn a lot of money. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. I was exhausted."
'I REALISED GOD WAS PROTECTING ME'
The lack of food, lack of shelter and lack of security left Seojun with little hope. All he wanted was to find rest and peace. But God saw Seojun in his exhaustion, and had better plans.
"There was one Chinese-Korean man I knew who went to church," says Seojun. "He asked me if I wanted to meet a missionary."
Up to that point, the only thing Seojun knew about Christians and Christianity was what he had learned at school. They were wolves in sheep's clothing—and should never be trusted, according to his textbooks. Superstitious and weak-minded, Christians were a 'threat' to North Korean life. "The missionaries were described as the murderers who pretended to be the lamb," he says.
But he was so tired that he took up the opportunity of shelter and rest at what was, in fact, an Open Doors safe house.
"Simply because they offered a place to live and all sorts of provisions and support, I decided to go to the safe house. And so I met the missionary. I started reading the Bible a little. And curiosity arose in me. I started praying as well. I prayed that, if God were alive – the God who carries out all the miraculous stories in the Bible – that He would save me from being captured. And when the police came to check identities, they would skip me. They would check every single person ahead of me, but skip my turn. At times like that, I realised that God was protecting me."
NO HIDDEN AGENDA - 'THEIR ONLY MOTIVATION WAS GOD'S LOVE'
After one year, Seojun became a Christian. He stayed at the safe house for a total of three years, receiving biblical teaching and discipleship. During that time, Seojun memorised 2,000 Bible verses with the hope of returning to North Korea to spread the gospel. But it was too risky to go back, so instead he went to Bible college in South Korea. Today, he is a church pastor there.
"Those verses that I loved during my time at the safety house are still a source of encouragement and I use them well."
Seojun has a favourite hymn from his time at the safe house: 'In the Garden' by C. Austin Miles.
And He walks with me and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
Seojun remains grateful to Open Doors for the support he received at the safe house.
"Something that I could not understand was why the safe house would provide what I needed without any payment. At first, I thought they must have had some kind of hidden motivation. However, as time passed, I realised that they served without expecting anything in return. Their only motivation was God’s love. I got to know about God because of those workers who devoted their time and effort. It gave me a chance to think again about the purpose of my life and the reason for living."
Seojun's message to you: Keep praying and don't give up.
"Not even one small offering or one time of prayer are in vain," he says. "At God’s appointed time, the crops will flourish. The fruits will grow. With this in mind, please pray a lot."
HOW CAN I HELP MY PERSECUTED CHURCH FAMILY?
North Korea is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian – but it isn’t the only place where Christians face extreme persecution. There are secret believers in other places, such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iran, where Christians must hide their faith from dictators and extremists, and risk imprisonment or even death for following Jesus.
It can seem like our persecuted brothers and sisters are too far away, and their lives are too different from ours, for us to really help them. but that isn’t true. Here are some things you can do today that will make all the difference for our persecuted church family.
You can pray. Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, says: "Our prayers can go where we cannot. There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray."
A prayer for North Korea: Lord Jesus, thank You for the courage of our North Korean brothers and sisters. We ask for Your protection and Your provision for them, so that the church may continue to grow and shine as a light in the darkness. May You flood the nation of North Korea with Your glory, Your truth and Your mercy.
You can give. You can’t help every persecuted believer, but by giving a gift, you could keep hope alive for one brother or sister. In North Korea, your gift could mean the difference between life and death – and the long-term support of people like you is helping an entire generation of believers in North Korea to not only survive, but also continue to show the love of Jesus to those around them.
Your faithful support is enabling Open Doors workers and partners to be there for our persecuted brothers and sisters for as long as it takes, and show them that they are not forgotten or alone.
Seojun says, "I would never be able to forget those who helped me at the safe house. Your dedication reminds me of the poor widow who put in two tiny copper coins which were everything she had. I experienced the power of your prayer and support. Do not give up or be discouraged with the unseen evidence. God is working now through your prayer and support." Thank you for continuing to stand with believers like Seojun.
*Name has been changed for security reasons