A Mother from North Korea

View All Blogs
Image: Hannah praying with her eldest daughter.
By Beth Ross | 18 January 2018

Hannah’s mother prayed every day. She had to watch out for neighbours, and if anyone came close, Hannah would cough and her mother would stop praying. She didn’t realise is then, but Hannah’s mother was a secret believer. 

Life In North Korea

Hannah would often hear her mum pray “Hanonim! Hanonim! Lord, Lord! Please help!’

But she didn’t quite know what that meant. And whilst her mother’s prayers kept Hannah from being indoctrinated, like other North Koreans, life was still hard growing up.

Two of Hannah’s children died very early on. Hannah also had to take care of the family when her husband couldn’t find work. She sold goods illegally on the black market.

“Sometimes I carried heavy, frozen meat up the mountains,” Hannah said. “This cost me my finger and toe nails. There was never any money for proper medical care.”

Escape To China

When Hannah’s mother died, Hannah’s eldest daughters fled to China. They were captured and sold as wives to Chinese farmers.

China 2014 0380104027
Image: A village in northeastern China, bordering North Korea.

“When we didn’t hear from them, my husband decided to go after them,” Hannah said. 

When her husband didn’t return, Hannah packed up the rest of family and went looking. 

“I prayed to God with the only words I knew: ‘Hanonim, Hanonim! Lord, Lord! Please help!’ 

A few weeks later they found each other and Hannah’s entire family was reunited in China. Her husband’s relative took them to church. It was the first time they had heard the gospel. 

 “All of us accepted Jesus Christ that day,” Hannah said. “We felt peace in our hearts and unexplainable joy… Now I could follow Him like my mother had.”

“Our faith grew very quickly, because we had been prepared all our lives for this moment.”

‘If Believing In God Is A Sin, I’d Rather Die’

Not long after her daughters had to return to the Chinese men who bought them, Hannah and the rest of her family were discovered in China. They were arrested and sent to a North Korean prison. 

North+Korea 2009 0040002980
Image: A North Korean prison at Dandong.

“They’d beat us so harshly,” Hannah recalled.

When her husband admitted he’d become a Christian, they were all locked up in solitary confinement and beaten even more. They didn’t receive any food or water.

The more they tortured Hannah’s husband, the harder he defended his faith. 

“If believing in God is a sin,” he’d yell, “I’d rather die! It’s my mission to live according to God’s will!”

“I too felt close to dying,” Hannah said. “I was dehydrated and beaten until I was unconscious.”

One day, Hannah’s family was called out of their prison cells. They feared they were about to be sent to a labour camp where they would surely die. 

“We prayed silently,” Hannah said. “I prayed that God would change this prison into a church.”

Praying For A Miracle

Hannah and her daughter were taken to an office to hear their fate. There were two other male prisoners there.

“One I recognised as my son, but the other was in such a bad shape. I didn’t recognise my husband, and he didn’t recognise me,” Hannah said. “That’s how horrendous we looked from the torture. His ribs and collarbone were broken, so that he could not even stand up straight.”

The deputy decided to give Hannah and her family special amnesty. They were free to go.

“When we walked out the prison that night and were finally free and alone, we quietly sang a hymn,” Hannah said.

Separated Again

Hannah’s family still feared for their lives and her husband urged Hannah to take their daughter and go back to China.

North+Korea 2017 0360100260 ed
Image: Hannah (left) praying with her daughter.

“I will come with our son in about a month,” he promised. “Then we will worship Jesus together.”

One month went by, and there was still no word from Hannah’s husband. 

She waited three years.

“I found out that he had died shortly after we left,” Hannah said. “He was never able to overcome the pain and illnesses from prison. My son was too young to help him.”

Hannah’s son couldn’t cross the river into China by himself. Two years ago, she found out he was alive and living with a family member. The two were able to briefly speak over the phone. 

Hannah now lives in South Korea and serves God there. 

“In North Korea, my mother only taught me one prayer,” Hannah said. “But I still pray it every day, for my family and for my country: ‘Hanonim, Hanonim! Lord, Lord, please help.’”

World Watch List

North Korea is the hardest place in the world to follow Jesus.

Find Out More