To the North Koreans gathered beneath a crucifix in an apartment in this northeastern Chinese border region, the 69-year-old Korean-Chinese woman is known as “mom.” She feeds them, gives them a place to stay and, on occasion, money.
Such border missionaries provide their North Korean visitors with room and board, and those escaping with places to hide. In return, they ask them to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and other prayers. Some of the most trusted converts return home to North Korea and covertly share what they’ve learned, sometimes carrying Bibles.
It’s almost impossible to determine what happens when those North Koreans return home to evangelize. People involved in Bible distribution, secret prayer services and underground church networks are imprisoned or executed, according to activists and defectors.
Along the North Korean border, dozens of such missionaries are engaged in work that puts them and their North Korean converts in danger. Most are South Koreans, but others, like this 69-year-old woman, are ethnic Koreans whose families have lived in China for generations.
In recent years, 10 such front-line missionaries and pastors have died mysteriously, according to the Rev. Kim Kyou Ho, head of the Seoul-based Chosen People Network, a Christian group that runs a memorial hall in the South Korean capital for the victims. North Korea is suspected in all those deaths.
Hundreds of other missionaries have been imprisoned or expelled by China, which bans foreigners from proselytizing.