Escape from North Korea, the Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad, by journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick, describes how Chinese Christians and churches are supporting escapees in defiance of laws prohibiting such assistance.
How do Christians explain their willingness to risk so much for the North Koreans coming into China?
It’s a really powerful example of Christian belief put into action. Many of the rescuers are Christians. Others are humanitarians. The people who say they work for nonsectarian institutions often are motivated by their own personal Christian faith. … It’s that attitude, that profound belief in wanting to help one’s fellow man, that inspires them. They know that they’re taking a lot of risk in helping the Koreans in China, and they also know that it’s not a popular cause.
One of the stories that I heard that really disturbed me was from the American Tim Peters, one of the leaders of the underground railroad who lives in Seoul. He spoke at a leading seminary in South Korea and asked, “Where are you going to on your mission after you graduate?” There were lots of people who wanted to go to India. But nobody, not one person, talked about going to China to help North Koreans. Certainly the dangers are part of it. But I think it has more to do with politics. …
In the book, you describe the dream the late leader Kim Jong-Il had where Americans lined up to stone him, then South Koreans, then North Koreans. What effect do you think that this dream had on his political policies and behavior?
I think that dream, as it was recounted by the South Korean Hyundai tycoon Chung Ju-Yung, was an expression of Kim’s thinking. It showed how he was afraid of his own people. He realized what he had done — what his father Kim Il Sung and what their regime had done — to the people of North Korea, and he was determined to maintain the totalitarian grip on the people. He wasn’t prepared to change.
Do you think that Kim Jong-Il’s experience could have a positive impact on his son Kim Jong-Un?
I’d like to think that there could be a positive impact, but I see zero indication of it. One of the first things Kim Jong-un did after the death of his father in December was to clamp down even harder on the border to prevent the crossing of North Koreans to China. I’ve even heard from very good sources that he has issued orders that families of people who’ve escaped be arrested and moved away from the border to interior locations where they can no longer receive information from their families who have escaped.
There just is zero indication that he has any kind of different thinking than his father or his grandfather had about the need to control every aspect of his countrymen’s lives. And he’s clearly terrified of information getting into the country.
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