Thomas Kidd recently wrote about Melanie Kirkpatrick’s book Escape from North Korea. He noted the role that Chinese Christians play in helping those who flee the Hermit Kingdom:
The North Koreans have so effectively eliminated Christianity that most escapees have virtually no knowledge of the religion. Until they escape, that is. But small, quiet networks of Christians — some formally associated with the underground railroad, some not — wait for the refugees on the other side of the Chinese border. (China is shamefully complicit in forcibly returning many North Korean runaways to their certain doom.)
Kirkpatrick tells the story of one abandoned, starving boy named Joseph who scrambled across the Tumen River into China in February 2005, risking the chance that he would be captured or shot on sight. (Virtually all escapees go north into China — crossing the demilitarized zone into South Korea is effectively impossible.) In the Chinese village across the river, he found no one to help him until he knocked on the door of a Christian, who fed him and told him to go to the nearest town. There an old woman advised him to find a church, because Christians helped escapees. “What’s a church?” Joseph asked. “Look for a building with a cross on it,” she told him.
He did find a church, connecting with a network of Chinese Christians that eventually helped him find refuge at the American consulate in Shenyang and, miraculously, political asylum in the United States. “The first survival tip a North Korean learns when he reaches China,” Kirkpatrick writes, is to “find a Christian.”
Untold numbers of North Koreans have converted to Christianity following their escape, and some brave ones have even returned to North Korea, at extraordinary personal risk, to serve as witnesses to their countrymen.