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Crossing Borders by Michael Chang - 3w ago

Peace talks that once appeared so promising between North Korea and the US seem to have stagnated while China’s President Xi Jinping is making history with a visit to North Korea in June 2019, reinserting China into the conversation. As waves of political discontent grow between the two countries, the path to peace seems all the more unclear.

To understand where US-North Korea peace talks are going, one must understand the motivations of the parties involved. Both countries, ultimately, want peace. But both parties also want to minimize the cost of peace. And the price tag for peace is very different for the US and North Korea.

The main concern of the US is its influence. The US Navy has bases in Japan and South Korea as well strategic locations throughout the Indian Ocean. American forces have been present in East Asia since World War II. Almost 78 years have been dedicated to maintaining the US military in East Asia - this includes its influence throughout and following the Cold War. Because the US maintains extensive peacekeeping forces half a world away, the US has a voice on the other side of the globe. The US also currently conducts a considerable amount of trade with China, South Korea and Japan, as well as many countries in South and Central Asia. If war were to break out in East Asia and a world power like China were to be involved, the US’s influence would be disrupted.

North Korea is in a different position altogether in its peace talks with the US. Although North Korea wants peace in East Asia, the regime knows its survival is entirely dependent on the regime holding onto power. With the UN Commission of Inquiry looming over their heads for human rights violations and abuses, the North Korean leadership knows that the only way to avoid international criminal courts for crimes against humanity is by maintaining absolute power in North Korea. This is ultimately what motivates the country’s seemingly erratic behavior, calculated displays of military force and weapon tests.

This motivation drives the North Korean dictatorship as it comes to the negotiating table with US officials. While North Korean leaders want peace and prosperity for their people, they certainly will not give their own power or lives in the process.

The fear that North Korean leaders have is understandable. Consider a scenario where North Korea becomes more like China. While prosperity in North Korea may skyrocket with trade and increased international influence, its citizens would be exposed to Western-style consumerism and some freedom to access outside information. This is a dangerous scenario for North Korea’s leadership. An influx of the very same foriegn investors and ideas that bring it more wealth and influence may spark realization, discontent, and violent upheaval.

In March 2018, North Korean officials drew a fascinating connection between themselves and the former leaders of Libya. It has been a source of contention between North Korea and the US after witnessing the events of Arab Spring. Muammar Gaddafi succumbed to international pressure in the years directly following 9/11 and gave up his nuclear program. This sparked a short-term peace for the country. But a little less than a decade later, US allegiance quickly shifted to the anti-Gaddafi contingency in the country. Gaddafi and his cadre died violent deaths at the hands of their own citizens.

The fear of losing their power and ultimately their lives is precisely why the country is so hesitant to give up its nuclear arsenal. This is all the more tragic for the North Korean people who are currently facing one of the worst food shortages in decades.

No one can predict what will happen between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. But understanding why these negotiations are so important for the parties involved will help us better pray for peace. We hope everyone will be praying with us.

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In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) released a summary of accusations against the North Korean government for its ongoing and wide-ranging crimes against humanity. In this 400-page document, the UNHCR compiled a list of policies established within the North Korean government that allowed and enforced abuses leveled against its people. The detailed report is disturbing, revealing a glimpse into North Korea’s cold indifference and willingness to allow extreme suffering to human life.

North Korea is a seemingly dystopian world made real. It is a place filled with violence against those who cannot defend themselves.

North Korean women live in a patriarchal society. This is due to lingering influences of Confucian values that are an essential part of East Asian history. North Korea’s lack of enforcement of human rights and abusive system of law has twisted gender inequality into a violent and sadistic part of many women’s lives.

“Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed, and widely tolerated secret,” remarks Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. Following 54 interviews conducted with North Korean refugees who escaped from the state after Kim Jong Un’s rise to power, Human Rights Watch released an 86-page report on sexual violence against women in North Korea. In it, they detailed the brutal abuses endured by North Korean women in public, in their homes and in imprisonment. Quoting the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry, the report states that “domestic violence is rife within DPRK society... violence against women is not limited to the home, and that it is common to see women being beaten and sexually assaulted in public.”

It is currently estimated that approximately 200,000 North Korean refugees may live in hiding in China. Over 70 percent of them are women. In Crossing Borders’ analysis of over a thousand refugees who have passed through our network, it is not difficult to believe that over 80 percent of these women have been trafficked. Some of those who are in Crossing Borders’ care have been sold multiple times after their escape from North Korea.

It is not entirely clear why such a large percentage of the North Korean refugee population is composed of women. Hypotheses vary many of them not exclusive of one another but North Koreans’ ongoing vulnerability in China is all the more abusive and impactful for women. According to a report on North Korean human trafficking published by Korea Future Initiative, the demand for North Korean women and the network for trafficking them is still expanding rapidly in China.

Studies reveal that North Koreans are not only be sold into forced marriages, but in to sex slavery - including prostitution and cybersex trafficking. According to the author of the report, Yoon Hee-Soon, “Historically, forced marriage was the most common form of sex trafficking... But after speaking with victims still in China and particularly with our rescue teams, we soon realized broker-led sales of North Koreans to brothels had overtaken sales into forced marriages.”

North Korean women are still fleeing. The most recent statistics state that 969 North Korean women found refuge in South Korea in 2018. This is one of the lowest numbers seen for refugees who have successfully fled to South Korea in the past decade. This may be due to the increasingly dangerous route for North Koreans through the modern day Underground Railroad in Southeast Asia through Thailand or Laos. China and North Korea are reported to be increasing security along their borders to arrest fleeing defectors.

Currently, --- North Korean women have found safety and community in Crossing Borders’ network in China. Together, we are hoping, in the face of growing darkness, to provide counseling, care, compassion for so many who have been hurt and broken for so long. Please help Crossing Borders to reach the downtrodden and burdened. Please help us to continue our work to bring many women together in encouragement and  support. With love and faith, even in fear, North Korean refugees can find freedom.

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The ultimate goal of Crossing Borders’ mission teams has never been to provide job training, medicine or financial support. All resources are under the greater purpose to help North Korean refugees build communities. It is a pursuit to gather people focused on faith, hope and love.

North Korean refugees have survived disaster. Medical professionals who have worked with Crossing Borders have diagnosed many refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Medicine, shelter, counseling - all of these tools are used to help refugees in Crossing Borders’ network. Crossing Borders has labored for over 16 years to practically change lives of North Korean refugees. But in response to individuals who have tangible needs, the primary objectives to create friendship or unity seem ephemeral or impractical. Crossing Borders missionaries could be helping North Korean refugees by helping labor on their farms, developing labor skills or distributing money. But instead, much of Crossing Borders’ work has gone into teaching refugees about the kindness and goodness of community.

Even volunteers on Crossing Borders’ mission teams, foreseeably, have asked a natural question when hearing this.

“Why retreats? Why community-building?”1. Sustainability

As much as Crossing Borders is dedicated to providing job training, medicine, and counseling to the best of the organization’s ability, the work conducted by the organization is always going to be a drop in the bucket. Over a thousand refugees have been impacted by the work of the Crossing Borders missionaries on the field. But the fact remains that over 200,000 North Korean refugees are still in hiding in China.

It is also a stark reality that the conditions that allow Crossing Borders to continue its work are not controllable. The work to help refugees in China remains illegal. China does not recognize fleeing North Koreans as refugees. North Koreans have no rights protecting their lives. They are arrested. They are sent back to face further injustice in North Korea. Crossing Borders fights for justice but cannot deliver this justice in the face of China’s legal system. Missionaries can be blacklisted. Entire areas of the network to help North Koreans can become impossible to sustain at any moment.

What is the best, lasting work that Crossing Borders can do that will outlive the organization’s current resources, its longevity, or the capacity of current missionaries?

Crossing Borders works to help refugees to gain an understanding of their own agency. North Korean people, together, despite their circumstances, can build a life together. They are capable of helping, supporting, teaching one another with compassion for one another’s struggles. In this process, Crossing Borders will continue to support efforts to create a community of endurance and trust.

2. Life-giving

The mission of Crossing Borders has always been to share compassion for refugees in hardship. The organization has, over the past 12 years, used over $1.2 million toward placing resources in China that can serve North Korean refugees and their children. Whether it was prescription eyeglasses, transportation, vitamins, education, monetary stipends for households, counseling, job training, or caregiving, Crossing Borders has been committed to meet North Koreans’ physical and psychological needs.

But stability is greatly needed for refugees in their personal lives. Even as physical and emotional needs are being met, there must be a deeper fulfillment that gives individuals purpose and meaning. While intangible, goodness is richly found when refugees discover the inherent value of their existence. With this, they can fight to overcome their obstacles.

It is for this reason that Crossing Borders is focused on helping refugees discover faith, hope and love together. The applicable truth of the Christian gospel is necessary for them to find the purpose of caring, seeking joy, encouraging one another. Crossing Borders will continue to harbor North Koreans to meet their needs. The hope is that one day, the North Korean refugees in this network will not only receive the compassion of our missionaries and supporters, but be able to share the same compassion with many others.

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Diplomatic relations between the United States and North Korea in 2017 consisted of ten missile launches and an increasingly brash exchange of threats between the nations’ leaders.

From January through July of 2017, North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of weapons tests, launching six intermediate and intercontinental missiles in the span of seven months. In response to the growing undertones of aggression, President Donald Trump made a declaration regarding North Korea’s agitations.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States," President Trump warned on August 5, 2017. "They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before."

In the 30 days following President Trump’s statement, North Korea conducted two additional missile tests and tested its largest nuclear bomb to date.

President Trump continued his commentary on the administration’s position on North Korea in his first address before the United Nations on September 19. The President vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if it continued to threaten the United States. "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself," he stated.

The inflammatory remarks instigated a published response from the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. “A frightened dog barks louder,” commented Kim. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

President Trump issued a bristling retort on Twitter in November 2017. “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’”

For a time, the interchange of blatant mocking and intimidating language between the two leaders of nations with nuclear capabilities seemed as if it would find no diplomatic or peaceful end. The world watched and wondered if the two countries would stumble into war.

While the threat of a nuclear North Korea dominated headlines, what was harder to notice was North Korea’s masterful use of rhetoric to capture the world’s attention and further subjugate its own people. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the North Korean regime.

After the harsh exchanges, the two leaders met on June 12, 2018. President Trump and Kim Jong Un stood only a few feet from one another across a table in Singapore, exchanging pleasantries in front of the world. No sitting United States president had ever even shared a phone call with a North Korean leader. Yet President Trump had agreed to meet face-to-face with Kim - asking for nothing in return but a willing discussion on nuclear arms and peace.

President Trump walked away from the summit stating publicly that Kim Jong Un was a “great leader.” “We fell in love,” the President remarked.

The dramatic turnaround of rhetoric between the United States and North Korean leaders held centerstage in the eyes of the world for good reason. As Vipin Narang, an MIT professor on nuclear proliferation commented on CNBC, “One has to treat this like a soap opera… Every day brings a new, mostly predictable twist.”

Being seen in a meeting with a US President means that any picture or video can be used to say that the two are equal. North Korea trumpeted these meetings as a coming of age for the young North Korean dictator. A mere photo op can speak louder than the words exchanged between the two leaders.

But the power of rhetoric is a tool not only used by North Korea to take centerstage internationally. Rhetoric and the use of mythic fiction has always been a weapon that the North Korean government has employed against its own people.

North Koreans are regularly lied to by their government from birth. Everything from public broadcasts, to television news and school education is shaped to harbor undying loyalty to the Kim regime that has liberated North Korea from the evils of the world. Kim Jong Un’s nuclear “success” is seen as a successful strike against the tyranny of the outside world by an underdog, isolationist nation that has nothing to envy in the world.

As such, the past two years of rhetoric between the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump has revealed that North Korea is capable of manipulating its narrative worldwide. The rhetorical war of words between Kim Jong Un and President Trump was not a volley of insults and threats between the leader of the free world and a dictator. It was, in the eyes of North Koreans, a critical battle of a North Korean champion who refused to back down from a fight.

The summits, the war of words and the fact that North Korea has made few concessions, all bolsters the regime’s argument that they are powerful and not to be trifled with. The result of this is the suffering North Korean people are less likely to revolt. It means that the government can take even stronger measures to control the lives, even thoughts of its people.

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Crossing Borders by Michael Chang - 3M ago

For a meager price, Mrs. Jo was sold twice in China, first as a farmhand. She was worked so mercilessly that her back went out, making her completely useless to her owners. Then she was sold again.

Mrs. Jo’s life was riddled with oppression but, by her strength of will and faith, refused to be defined by it. Despite being sold twice and being stripped of all her rights, she proved herself as an integral part of our work over the course of the years that we have known her. Mrs. Jo died in March. Her life proved the God-given worth of people from any background or status.

Mrs. Jo fled North Korea immediately following the Great North Korean Famine, which lasted between 1995 and 1998. She watched her husband and three children starve to death. And as the youngest of Mrs. Jo’s boys lay starving and weak in her arms, he asked his mother for one bowl of rice to eat. Mrs. Jo told him that she would sell the shirt off her back and trade it for a final meal for him. He smiled, touched the button on her shirt and died.

Mrs. Jo had no one else.

With nothing left and at the brink of death herself, Mrs. Jo found the strength to walk to the border that separated North Korea and China. She was promised work in China but, like so many others, Mrs. Jo fell victim to the snare of human trafficking. She was subdued and prepped for sale. Mrs. Jo was older and was deemed undesirable to Chinese men looking for young brides. So for a discounted price, she was sold to a pig farmer. But her body gave way after a year on this farm. She was sold to an old Chinese man, but for the rest of her days, Mrs. Jo’s back was painfully, permanently deformed.

Mrs. Jo met Crossing Borders missionaries in China in 2012. They counseled her, brought her into an underground community with other North Korean refugees. It transformed her life.

Due to her back and ailing health, Mrs. Jo could not travel. Nonetheless, she began an outreach to other North Korean women in Crossing Borders’ network via long-distance phone calls in 2015. She became a mother to them, nurturing them with hope and faith. Her testimony blessed so many, both North Korean refugees and Crossing Borders staff. She did so much with so little and was joyful in the face of suffering.

Mrs. Jo’s body was cremated and her bones were buried. No death certificate was signed for her in China. She was never acknowledged as a person there. But we believe that she is somewhere better. We believe that she is in glory, her face is bright, shining as the sun. All of the wrongs done to her are made right and all of the tears she shed are wiped away.

Mrs. Jo was a prisoner with no ID and no personal rights. Her body was broken beyond repair. She was poor. She was barely able to walk. Her body was ravaged by harsh starvation, labor and illness. Her children died in a senseless famine. But the effect of the lives she touched will go on long past her life here on earth.

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In our previous post, Where Will Anna Go?, Crossing Borders wrote about the strife in the life of “Anna,” a North Korean refugee. Anna faced what seemed an endless torrent of misfortune. Depression flooded her life and pulled her into depths of despair.

But as Anna lost all bearings, as she drowned in a cruel and unending weight of work that offered no solace, an invisible hand plucked Anna from seas of dismay. Her weeping was stopped by the warm embrace of unwarranted kindness. A community of sympathy and encouragement gathered around her. She realized for the first time that she was not alone. She was being watched over. As her faith revealed to her, she had always been watched over. Even in the cruelest isolation and pain. She was promised life, not in spite of despair, but even under its cruelest waves.

Anna’s fervent prayers for her missing children continued. Their loss weighed heavily upon her heart, even with the newfound joy in her own life. And with Anna’s prayers, a miracle occurred in a country with over 200,000 displaced North Koreans and almost 1.4 billion people.

In 2016, after 14 years of separation, Anna heard rumors that her second daughter, “Kate” lived in a distant village. Without hesitation, Anna went out to see the face of her lost daughter. By great grace, Anna found her. We cannot imagine the power of their reunion. After much reconciliation, Anna found a place in her daughter’s life. Despite the rift that had formed between them in over a decade spent apart, Anna and her daughter became a family again.

But Anna’s heart broke almost immediately again.

Kate made a desperate attempt to escape to South Korea and succeeded. But overwhelmed and defeated by the pressures of living in the modern world of South Korea, Kate returned to China broken and defeated.

Kate began to suffer from crippling anxiety and a parasitic illness in 2018. Anna, terrified, turned to her community of refugee women. Together, they desperately prayed for Kate. In response to Kate’s debilitating sickness, Crossing Borders staff found medication to help Kate, to relieve some of her symptoms. Our staff also searched and discovered doctors who could cure her condition. With medical attention, the decision came down to whether Kate would have to undergo serious surgery – an expensive surgery that Anna could never afford.

“They had put her fate in my hands.”

Anna reflected on the moment the doctors had placed the only option to help her suffering daughter at her feet. Her eyes were wide, helpless. But Anna, who had once described her life as a pit of despair broke into a smile as she reflected on this horrifying moment for any mother. For the first time in her life, she knew where to turn. “I prayed.”

Anna’s own summary of the story is astoundingly simple. “Our God answered.”

Anna’s family pooled their resources together. They found the money. And Anna’s daughter is alive and well.

But hope is not only a response to duress. With hope, we can seek greater things we had never dreamed of before. It is the firm ground under our feet when we fall, the helping hand that calls us to run with faith. With the great hope she discovered, Anna sought more.

At the end of 2018, Anna left her village to seek out safety and the possibility of a life in South Korea. Once more, she will be traveling vast distances on foot in hopes for a better life. This road is much longer than her trek to China over 16 years ago. It will not be hundreds of miles, but thousands. Anna will face challenges, obstacles, dangers along the way. The terrors stand tall.

But Crossing Borders staff holds fast to the same hope we shared with Anna. The fears are still present. But boldness is where faith is found. Anna, who had once felt so helpless, afraid, abandoned and unable has stepped out to face perhaps one of the most dangerous journeys in the modern world. Please pray for Anna to be safe, to remain steadfast.

“We came into this world with empty hands and we leave with empty hands. We do not know where to go in life. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We live without knowing tomorrow…While we are alive, let’s live sincerely and with pure hearts putting faith and trust in God and following Him.”
- Anna in 2018

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Crossing Borders by Michael Chang - 4M ago

In our previous post, Where Will Anna Go?, Crossing Borders wrote about the strife in the life of “Anna,” a North Korean refugee. Anna faced what seemed an endless torrent of misfortune. Depression flooded her life and pulled her into depths of despair.

But as Anna lost all bearings, as she drowned in a cruel and unending weight of work that offered no solace, an invisible hand plucked Anna from seas of dismay. Her weeping was stopped by the warm embrace of unwarranted kindness. A community of sympathy and encouragement gathered around her. She realized for the first time that she was not alone. She was being watched over. As her faith revealed to her, she had always been watched over. Even in the cruelest isolation and pain. She was promised life, not in spite of despair, but even in under its cruelest waves.

Anna’s fervent prayers for her missing children continued. Their loss weighed heavily upon her heart, even with the newfound joy in her own life. And with Anna’s prayers, a miracle occurred in a country with over 200,000 displaced North Koreans and almost 1.4 billion people.

In 2016, after fourteen years of separation, Anna heard rumors that her second daughter, “Kate” lived in a distant village. Without hesitation, Anna went out to see the face of her lost daughter. By great grace, Anna found her. We cannot imagine the power of their reunion. After much reconciliation, Anna found a place in her daughter’s life. Despite the rift that had formed between them in over a decade apart, Anna and her daughter became a family again.

But Anna’s heart broke almost immediately again.

Kate made a desperate attempt to escape to South Korea and succeeded. But overwhelmed and defeated by the pressures of living in a modern world, Kate returned to China broken and defeated.

Kate began to suffer from from crippling anxiety and a parasitic illness in 2018. Anna, terrified, turned to her community of refugee women. Together, they desperately prayed for Kate. In response to Kate’s debilitating sickness, Crossing Borders staff found medication to help Kate, to relieve some of her symptoms. Our staff also searched and discovered doctors who could cure her condition. With medical attention, the decision came down to whether Kate would have to undergo serious surgery – an expensive surgery that Anna could never afford.

“They had put her fate in my hands.”

Anna reflected on the moment the doctors had placed the only option to help her suffering daughter her at her feet. Her eyes were wide, helpless. But Anna, who had once described her life as a pit of despair broke into a smile as she reflected on this horrifying moment for any mother. For the first time in her life, she knew where to turn. “I prayed.”

Anna’s own summary of the story is astoundingly simple. “Our God answered.”

Anna’s family pooled their resources together. They found the money. And Anna’s daughter is alive and well.

But hope is not only a response to duress. With hope, we can seek greater things we had never dreamed of before. It is the firm ground under our feet when we fall, the helping hand that calls us to run with faith. With the great hope she discovered, Anna sought more.

At the end of 2018, Anna left her village to seek out safety and the possibility of a life in South Korea. Once more, she will be traveling vast distances on foot in hopes for a better life. This road is much longer than her trek to China over sixteen years ago. It will not be hundreds of miles, but thousands. Anna will face challenges, obstacles, dangers along the way. The terrors stand tall.

But Crossing Borders staff holds fast to the same hope we shared with Anna. The fears are still present. But boldness is where faith is found. Anna, who had once felt so helpless, afraid, abandoned and unable has stepped out to face perhaps one of the most dangerous journeys in the modern world. Please pray for Anna to be safe, to remain steadfast.

“We came into this world with empty hands and we leave with empty hands. We do not know where to go in life. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We live without knowing tomorrow… While we are alive, let’s live sincerely and with pure hearts putting faith and trust in God and following Him.”
- Anna in 2018

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Crossing Borders by Michael Chang - 4M ago

Imagine traveling over 100 miles on foot with the three most important people in your life, only to arrive in one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“Anna” is a North Korean refugee who crossed the Tumen River dividing North Korea and China with her three daughters. She knew she would be trafficked once she crossed the border into China. She knew the life in store for her would be more difficult than she could ever imagine. But Anna had little choice.

Crossing Borders understands that often, we are an interim ministry. That is, our work is only a part of the journey for many North Korean refugees who are seeking lives of hope and freedom. While they are in our care, we share what we can. From 2015 through 2018, we counseled Anna in her ongoing struggles through small gatherings and retreats throughout the year. We helped send her daughter “May” to a high school where she would gain a better education for her future. In 2017, we brought Anna medicine for her ongoing hurts and weakness. We also shared with Anna the source of our strength. Anna’s response was of tremendous faith and with such faith came great healing.

Anna’s eldest daughter had been caught selling more vegetables than the allowed by North Korean law. Her family had been struggling to make ends meet. Anna turned to every opportunity to make the money for her family. But the North Korean police who found Anna’s daughter had no mercy. They beat her and forced her to sign a letter of confession. They would be coming to arrest her. So Anna took her three children and fled in the dead of night.

The ordeal ahead of Anna was more terrible than she could have imagined.

Anna’s assumption that she would be allowed to stay with her family was false. Anna and her youngest daughter “May” were sold to a Chinese man as her two older children were separated from her and sold as forced brides. Two of Anna’s children simply disappeared from her life in a foreign land where their lives were at the mercy of men whose names they did not know.

“My life was one where I lived simply because I could not die,” Anna shared. She had lived a life devoid of joy. She only lived on in fear of death, to sustain her beloved daughter and husband. “It was a life of suffering.”

Anna toiled under the beating sun each day in China. Her skin grew dark and dry until it cracked, her fingers and palms became calloused like stone. Anna wearily planted and reaped each season. She had no community. She had no respite. She only had her labor. Anna is one of the hardest working women our missionaries have ever met, they told us in a recent report. But she was a alone and poor.

Anna cautiously entered Crossing Borders’ care in 2015. She was not quick to believe in God and belief was never forced upon her. Anna began to pray for herself and her family. Over time, she slowly came to believe in the Christian faith. In it, she found relief and joy. She asked for help in her work, for strength in her aching body and for help finding her lost daughter. Anna tells us of a healing relief that soothed her whole soul and body in response, invisible fuel that kept her strong in working day after day. As she grew in faith, Anna shared her joys sought the source of her hope with others. In a pursuit to live and endure, she found a community of care, love and strength.

Seemingly by the slimmest of chances, Anna found herself with a desire to embrace life, even the in great burden of her work. In the fields, Anna reflected on the happy worship of the women from whom she received understanding, kindness and grace. Together, the women had found what seemed a great gift. It was a hidden treasure, a secret delight that endured the weight of all their suffering and hardship. Something had changed.

Anna found hope. This hope did not merely bring help into her life. This hope transformed her life altogether.

Read more about the power of this hope in Anna’s life in Anna Goes the Distance

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Crossing Borders by Michael Chang - 5M ago

Statue of Kim Il Sung in North Korea.

America has seen the coming and going of thirteen Presidents in the past 70 years. Truman. Eisenhower. Kennedy. Johnson. Nixon. Ford. Carter. Reagan. H.W. Bush. Clinton. Bush. Obama. Trump. On the contrary, in North Korea, there has been one family for over seven decades.

The Kim Family’s rule over North Korea - a dictatorship that crossed its 70th anniversary in September 2018, is the longest standing communist government in the world besides the government of Vietnam, which was fully unified in 1976, 28 years after the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK). The DPRK, established in September 1948 under the premiership of Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung was the longest dictator to keep his rule in world history besides Fidel Castro.

The founding of North Korea’s dictatorship followed one of the most painful eras of Korean history. From 1905 through 1945, the Japanese Empire extended its authority over the Korean Peninsula as a legal protectorate. The imperial military and police rule was a foreign occupation seared into the national memory of the Koreas. The forty years of Japanese colonialism were filled with calculated policies of violent oppression and painful cultural indoctrination.

It is unsurprising that following World War II, Premier Kim Il Sung’s campaign to rebuild the glory of Korea under the banner of nationalism was incredibly successful. Today he still holds as North Korea’s “Eternal President.” His cunning use of propaganda and misinformation to re-educate his people was founded on a national philosophy of “juche,” or “self-reliance.” It is still the predominant worldview of the North Korean people.

But after flooding and famine, harsh food shortages and economic collapse ravaged North Korea following the 1960s, the nation, unable to hold its infrastructure in place, played to the favor of the Soviet Union and Chinese Communist Party to remain in power. To this day, the North Korean government has little to no ability to sustain its people and is propped up by the thread of support it receives from China as 80% of its exports go across its northern border and 90% of its imports are from the same nation.

History books in North Korea teach that Kim Il Sung’s son, Kim Jong Il was born on Mount Paekdu, the highest peak of the Korean peninsula, his birth coincided with the blessing of a swallow, a double rainbow, and a new star in the night sky. Heralded with such messianic imagery of the “Great Successor,” Kim Jong Il took the position of General Secretary in 1994 following the death of this father.

However, it was also under the rule of Kim Jong Il that North Korea experienced the worst famine in modern history as an unknown number of individuals, ranging up to 3.5 million people, starved to death. The North Korean government’s oversight of the famine was a nightmare. While a nation of people wasted away, the policies of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il did not turn to the needs of his people. Instead, it is said that the nation’s Supreme Leader spent up to 20% of the nation’s budget on personal luxury goods during his time in office while increasing his aggressive campaign to increase North Korea’s military might.

Under Kim Jong Un’s leadership, the North Korean government has overseen a total of 30 missile launches in less than a decade and four nuclear tests as the nation’s leader is rumored to spend up to $600 million for personal luxury goods per year. However, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, is also a groundbreaker of the Kim family. Coupled with his threatening display on the world stage throughout 2017 came new steps of diplomacy and peacemaking with western nations and on the Korean Peninsula in 2018.

But as Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un prepares to meet US President Trump at the end of February in Vietnam, it is important to remember that his dictatorial rule is only the latest in the line of North Korean leaders. About half of the nation’s population is still hungry or starving. Over 70 percent of North Koreans who fled to China are women and 80 percent of those women are victims of human trafficking.

This year, Crossing Borders reaches its 17th year of our work. As we look to the bleak past, we strive - not only to hope for more but to work for a better future for the North Korean people. The power of the North Korean government, national and international rulers do not fall under our authority. But we know we can change the lives of those who fall victim to the crushing abuse of the world. It is Crossing Borders’ mission to hold fast to faith and to care for North Korean refugees in our network. We will continue to reach out to North Koreans with compassion and strength - no matter the principalities or powers that rule over North Korea in the years to come.

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The work of Crossing Borders is fraught with risk. Though our efforts have continued uninterrupted for 16 years, we’ve operated with the knowledge that at any moment, the Chinese government could effectively halt our operations. But despite the inherent pressures of our mission field, we find ourselves full of hope.

On January 4th, closely following the 40th anniversary of bilateral Chinese-American relations, the US State Department issued an advisory placing China on status of “increased caution” for travelling Americans. The advisory warned US citizens that Chinese officials may arrest or detain any Americans visiting China in the country without being charged with a crime. China is using these arrests “to compel U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations, to lure individuals back to China from abroad, and to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.”

The release of the advisory is the result of the ongoing tensions between the Chinese and American governments. The government travel advisory for the 2.3 million Americans who visit China each year is likely driven by ongoing trade negotiations with China, as well as the recent detention of three Canadian nationals. It is both a politically and economically motivated warning issued by a American officials closely watching Chinese diplomacy. The two nations’ combative rhetoric has been expanding steadily.

Caught in the crossfire are Crossing Borders’ American missionaries who travel into China to serve North Korean refugees and their children. If arrested or detained, they would be casualties of a much larger conflict that has little to do with Crossing Borders’ work. But Crossing Borders has long been aware of the difficulties of working in China, especially as an American organization. Both of our founding members have experienced danger to their lives. Members of our Chinese field staff have reported being under the watchful eye of authorities, sitting through accusatory interrogations or receiving threats of arrest. As the American and Chinese governments take turns placing a greater strain upon their relationship overseas, US missionaries grow concerned.

Christianity, has been strongly rejected and harshly enforced by Chinese authorities for the past year. Our missionaries have recently reported that religious holidays such as Christmas have been banned in certain major cities. Heightened frustration between the American and Chinese governments have only given our staff more reason to worry about arrest, detainment or expulsion in China. With right cause, we feel powerless and caught in the middle of a much bigger conflict.

Over 200,000 North Korean refugees who are in hiding throughout China experience much greater pressures. Many refugees - who have experienced terror and abuse at the hands of authorities - are aware of how little control they have over their circumstances. Hungry and impoverished, they could never control the scale of historic and international tensions that have driven them into desperate circumstances. Many live in fear.

But Crossing Borders’ message for both the field staff we employ and the North Korean people in our care is one of hope. We do not share our hopes despite being at the mercy of greater powers, but because of such mercies. We do not believe our difficult circumstances are signs of despair. We trust in that we have been given a mission to share kindness, love, and peace despite the tribulation or persecution we may experience. Our calling proves truer and stronger in trials and is our anchor in all circumstances.

In safety and danger please stand with us in prayer. Whatever trials lay ahead in the coming year, Crossing Borders hopes to forge onward holding to our testimonies of deep compassion and great endurance.

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