A Christian ministry located in China is training trafficked North Korean women to become leaders of the future church in their home country.
Christian charity organization Open Doors is providing assistance and pastoral care to about 150 to 250 trafficked North Korean women in China each year. These women have been sold into marriage and servitude, and many have been maltreated by their husbands or their captors.
Hwa-Young is one of the workers who dedicated her life to ministering to the trafficked women. She said that the first two years of her life as a minister had been difficult, but now, she no longer has any doubts about her chosen line of work.
She recalled that North Korea's capital of Pyongyang was once considered as the "Jerusalem of the East" because of the prevalence of Christianity.
"Now the people have to worship idols of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in this city... The women were raised in fear," she remarked.
"They grew up in severe poverty. They are always hungry. All of them know what it is like to worry about every meal, to eat from the trash and to beg for food," she continued.
She added that North Koreans attend pre-school at about five years old, but they are also forced to watch public executions.
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Hwa-Young said that the most challenging part of reaching out to the trafficked women are the cultural barriers and their psychological issues.
"Even when they are older and leave the country, they still experience that psychological pressure of fear. There is much more freedom here in China, but the women are still not safe. Additionally, most of them have been abused, both in North Korea and in China," she said.
Hwa-Young was once shocked to learn that one of the women she was helping was repatriated to North Korea. She later learned that the woman, who was identified by the pseudonym Grace, was taken to a North Korean prison camp as a defector.
One police officer suggested to Grace that he would be willing to free her if she knew anyone who could pay money in exchange for her freedom. She was released a month later after her friends in China raised the money demanded by the officer. Grace was able to escape to China again and rejoin Hwa-Young's group after spending six months with her sisters.
There are currently 10 women who are being trained to lead the women-to-women ministry in China, with the long-term goal of helping to build the future church in North Korea. The country has held the top rank in the Open Doors World Watch List as the most dangerous place to live as a Christian for 14 consecutive years.