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Defector preaches unification

ICC Note:

The first North Korean defector to become a Christian minister calls for the reunification as he recalls his own escape form North Korea and conversion to Christianity.

10/1/09 North Korea (KoreaHerald) The first North Korean defector to become a Christian minister can still vividly recall the oppression his family suffered in the communist country more than 30 years ago.

“My grandfather, who worked at a government division, equivalent to the Education Ministry here, publicly denounced the textbooks, which warped the facts as if our history had been created under the leadership of Kim Il-sung,” said Kang Chul-ho, now 42.

“He was immediately sacked and taken to prison, and has not been heard from since. My father, who was a city government official, was subsequently fired and our whole family had to move to the countryside, where my father had to work at a brick-making factory to feed our family.”

His whole family was branded by their connection to a political prisoner, after which none of their neighbors wanted to associate with them.

“I worked my fingers to the bone at school because I thought I could do away with all accusations against our family only by becoming a powerful person. But I realized it was impossible and felt hopeless,” Kang said.

Seeing no means of success in his country of birth, he decided to attempt escape. Though well-aware that he could face death if caught and repatriated, he crossed the border into China via the Amnok River by himself in 1992.

Fortunately for him, there were few refugees crossing the border in those days, so Kang recalls that the Chinese people near the border were warm-hearted and willing to help. Their attitudes have since changed now that a large number of refugees cross the border to escape the oppression and poverty of North Korea, Kang said.

After spending the first year wandering the streets, he happened to meet a Chinese Christian pastor in Shenyang, whom he calls his “life-saver.” The female minister, whose name he could not divulge, offered him shelter and enabled him to make his way to South Korea.

“While I was hiding in a church with the help of the pastor, someone reported my presence to the Chinese authorities, but she hid me even though she could have faced severe punishment from the government,” he said.

His disillusionment with Kim Il-sung – whom the North Koreans revere like a deity – had earlier caused him to rebel against the concept of a divine presence, but this experience opened his mind to the idea.

“I was initially full of doubt, asking how someone invisible could protect us when the visible Kim Il-sung, whom we so avidly worshiped, failed to protect us. But I slowly realized the love of God through this series of incidents,” he said.

Kang believes that at the time of Korean reunification, defectors to the South could play a crucial role in bridging the ideological, economical and social gaps that have widened during the six-decade division.

“It took me 10 years to adjust and become a South Korean. It may take the same amount of time for North Koreans to adjust to a new life here when the two Koreas reunite. The defectors here could help reduce the time by assisting them. We need to train them.”

“Many churches here are interested in providing aid to North Korea while they pay little attention to the defectors here. When we cannot embrace North Korean defectors, how can we embrace North Koreans? With proper education and attention, we should help them confidently live in this society,” he said.

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