Lee And Hyo Joo-Chan From North Korea: Part 2
How has North Korea managed to remain the number one most dangerous country for Christians for the last 16 years? Let’s go back over a decade, to see what life was like when it first topped the World Watch List.
After both of his parents disappeared, Hyo felt like an orphan from the age of 8. He was left in his grandma's care.
“People must know what it is like in North Korea so they can pray..."
“People must know what it is like in North Korea so they can pray, especially for the ‘Floating Swallows’ as North Koreans call the many street children in their country. For years, I was one of them.” He said.
Hyo left his grandma's house, and was a stowaway on a train when he met two other young boys. Their parents had already starved to death.
“They were my best friends… I loved them more than my own family.” He said.
They dreamed of a future where they all shared a house and ran a business together. This helped them pass the time as they avoided violent groups of orphans or mafia-like criminals. But life was hard, and food was scarce.
“We went into the fields and sifted through the cowpats looking for any undigested grains of corn.” Hyo said.
It wasn’t before long that the three of them became sick. “I held onto them and they both died in my arms. The worse moment in my life.” he said. “Again I was completely alone.”
Hyo recovered from his sickness and a North Korean man offered him work carrying bags. He was wary, many street children had been abducted and killed so their organs and blood could be sold. But Hyo decided to trust the man, and that trust was not betrayed.
After a few years of work Hyo decided to go back to school and, once he finished, joined the army. Since his father was believed to be a traitor, Hyo was considered part of the lowest class in society and the army was his only way forward. At his final interview the military officer placed a file on the desk. It was his fathers. It has a black stamp on it, the mark for the hostile class in North Korea. Hyo wasn’t allowed to join to army.
One day a man came to Hyo saying he had been sent by his father who had been looking for him. With the man's Chinese mobile, he phoned Lee.
“I could not recognise my father’s voice” Hyo said. “He wanted me to go to China to meet him, I agreed because I know I would never have a good life in North Korea.”
He waited in a Christian shelter in China. The children there read a book with a cross on the cover–he had been taught it was a symbol of evil. Hyo was terrified.
When Hyo was finally taken to meet his father, all sorts of emotions battled inside of him.
“Joy, sorrow and anger were fighting to take over” he said. ”He tried to talk to me but in the first couple of hours I practically said nothing.”
They agreed that Hyo would join other refugees and go to a South Korean embassy in Mongolia. But the plan went wrong.
Their guide didn’t take them to the border. They were given wire cutters and told to walk, and after getting lost, a military jeep showed up. The refugees split up.
Hyo ran with his 13-year-old friend. The boy was shot in the back and a bullet pierced Hyo’s foot. He dropped to the ground beside his friend.
“No! You mustn’t die like this! God, help us! Where are you?” he cried.
The Christians at the shelter had told him to call out to God when things were hard, but nothing happened. It was the third time in his life a friend died in his arms. Hyo was just 15 years old.
After he was captured, Hyo was sent to a North Korean prison.
“Welcome back. You should never have escaped.”
“Welcome back.” A soldier said. “You should never have escaped.”
The prison was a plain single story building from the outside, but there were four levels hidden underneath. The further you went down the worse you were tortured. On the first floor, abuse was mental and the inspector just tried to confuse him.
However when that didn’t work, a hood was placed over his head and he was taken to the second floor. There he was told to write down information, and when he didn’t they would bend his fingers back and beat him with sticks. Hyo didn’t comply and ended up on the bottom level.
“I regularly heard people screaming in other cells. I was so scared of being there.” He said.
They hung him up by his feet from the ceiling and beat him with clubs and later with red hot pipes until he was unconscious. The guards would bring him around with cold water, and then the torture would continue.
One day the inspector from the first floor came into his prison cell.
“I have a son of fifteen too.” He said.
He told Hyo he was expected at court, but he should go home to recover from the torture first. After that he would come back to prison.
“You have three days. You know what that means don’t you?” he asked.
Hyo knew the man was giving him three days to escape.
His Grandma was contacted and picked up Hyo. She bribed a guide to take him across the river into China where he was taken to see Lee at a hotel. All his father knew was that his son had not made it to Mongolia.
Over time the wounds healed and they came up with a new plan–to go to an American school in Shanghai to apply for asylum. But the plan was flawed. None of the staff spoke English or Korean. They called the authorities. “But we won’t prevent you from leaving,” the principal said.
Hyo was too shocked to understand he was being given another chance to escape. He was taken to a Chinese prison. There he shared a cell with a Korean Christian who urged Hyo to pray.
"God if you really exist, let me survive this. Rescue me."
“So I prayed ‘God if you really exist, let me survive this. Rescue me.’” He said.
One day he was led into an office. Hyo believed he was going to be sent back to North Korea. Instead, they told him he was to be released. Hyo realised God heard his prayers and gave his life to the Lord. The God who had seen him when he was sleeping under trains, who had sent people to help him, who put him in contact with his father again and who had protected him in prison. The God who was now revealing himself as his Saviour.
Hyo lived safely in South Korea with his father. He later moved to Europe to study dentistry.
“It’s difficult to tell me story,” says Hyo. “I’ve never spoken to anyone about it in detail but it’s important that the world knows. People must know what North Korea is like, so that they can pray.”
Click here to find out more about what it's like to be a Christian in North Korea.
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