It has been five years since I flew from South Korea to Kansas
for my study at the University of Kansas. With graduation approaching, I was
looking for jobs and having a difficult time at it when Pastor Ki-won Chun sent
me a message from South Korea. He said, “Leanna, I will be visiting the U.S.
this month. Will you be able to come down to San Antonio, Texas to spend some
time with North Korean refugees living in the U.S.?” I became acquainted with
Pastor Chun last summer in 2015 at Durihana International School, where I volunteered
as a teacher for North Korean students. I was grateful to be in touch with him
again, but honestly I was so keen to leave and take some rest in San Antonio
more than helping the North Koreans. I said, “Yes, Pastor. I would like to
go!” Whatever the reason, this was how my trip to San Antonio started.
I arrived at the San Antonio airport from Kansas City. It was
the middle of February, but the weather was very humid and hot. I heard that
Sarah, a woman from North Korea had already arrived and was waiting for me at
the baggage claim area. I was a little nervous when I thought about meeting
a stranger for the first time in person. “That must be her.” There was one
Asian women sitting in between white people. Sarah was sitting like a shy cat
who seemed very quiet yet wild. Although she was a pale younger girl, somehow
she seemed stronger than she looked. While Sarah and I were having chitchat
awkwardly, another Asian lady came right up to us. I guess she could tell who
we were as easily as I found Sarah. The lady introduced herself. Her name was
Amy. She smiled very pleasantly to me, but I could feel a wall between us as
she answered my questions in short and few words. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt
in the middle of February, I had no idea what was really going to happen with
these strangers in the next few days.
We arrived at Pastor Sun’s home. Pastor Sun had been helping
North Korean defectors for 10 years, and opened up her home for us to stay for
the trip. It was a mansion in the richest neighborhood in San Antonio. I was
amazed by the magnificence of the mansion because it just looked like a castle
on the hill. I was very overwhelmed by all these strange new things, but I calmed
down a little bit after the pastor’s family welcomed us with a big Southern
hug. We had dinner together and were invited to join a prayer meeting. Pastor
Chun and another girl from North Korea had not arrived yet, so Sarah, Amy, and
I attended the prayer among many Americans until he came.
Over there at the prayer room, I felt something different because
I had never seen any Americans cry out so desperately, praying on their knees
with their faces down on the ground. These are the things that I saw back in
my country: many elderly Korean Christians praying so heavily in the Holy Ghost.
It was rare to see such prayers in the U.S. I wanted to watch them and see them
cry and pray passionately. As my eyes were glued on the Americans during prayer,
Sarah caught me with my eyes open, not praying - and I realized she was also
watching the Americans as intently as I was. We smiled at each other. I suppose
this was when Sarah and I clicked since first meeting her awkwardly at the airport.
While we were still watching the people pray, Pastor Chun arrived.
Having not seen the Pastor since last year, I was very happy and
exited to see him, but Sarah burst into tears upon seeing him when he walked
in through the door. For her, it was the first time meeting him since her rescue
from China, and I suppose a lot of thoughts and emotions crossed her mind. Being
born and raised in a land of freedom, South Korea, I would never understand
how she felt about all this - having lived in a place where is no freedom, and
starting a new life in a place where there are no family and friends. I felt
very sorry for her since I could only imagine that she must have cried a lot
when no one was around. The younger girl from North Korea who arrived with the
Pastor was called Colleen and was very small but attractive with a good skin
wearing nice clothes. I was not able to get too close to her at first as she
sometimes gave me a cold icy look. With all that, we four women shared one room
together during the whole trip.
I was the only girl from South Korea in the room. Both North and
South Koreans speak the same language, but My Seoul (capital city of South Korea)
accent did not mix well as we spoke to each other. I tried to communicate with
them and build our friendship by imitating their accent and singing North Korean
songs, but it was never easy. I felt excluded in the room because perhaps they
thought I was an affluent woman who grew up without any difficulties. Despite
all this, I tried to just be myself - nothing more or less than me, because
I thought we could be friends if they accepted me as I am. I also thought that
was how I would know why God sent me to this strange place. Little by little,
we got to know about each other.
On the third day of the trip, Pastor Chun called Amy. “Will you
share a testimony for us?” I still do not know why he chose her, but Sarah
readily agreed. This moment became the turning point for me, in that the purpose
of my trip changed from being on vacation to meeting an awesome God. During
Amy’s testimony, she shared stories about her life in China that she never
told us. It was a life that she sold her body to earn money to support her 8-year-old
daughter left alone back in North Korea. But she never received any money. There
was no hope for her life, but she felt the love of Jesus through Pastor Chun
and his Durihana rescue team who took risks and put themselves in danger to
find and rescue her from China where she were being preyed on by human traffickers.
Amy asserted in the testimony that she gave her life completely to Jesus and
will live her life for Him. We all cried and prayed for the safety and a new
life of her daughter in North Korea. It was so amazing that we all became one
in the promise of God, during the prayer, no matter how we looked, what language
we first used, and where we came from.
I came back to the room with Amy after her testimony. My eyes
were badly swollen after a hard cry, but I was very proud and thankful to have
that eyes that cried out for someone that Jesus really loves. My eyes shined
through the heavy swollen eyelids. I really wanted to comfort and support her,
as I knew how difficult it was to share a story of a life that she herself could
not even understand. I reassured her how much I was touched, how my heart was
on fire, and how I too have come to feel the love of Christ while she was sharing
the testimony. We cried and prayed again together. God used her vulnerability
to call me, and draw near to God, and help me live my life for Him again.
Pastor Chun asked me to help his ministry in San Antonio, but
it was actually an opportunity God gave me to restore my relationship with Him.
I came to realize that a life helping others is a time that we will be filed
with the richness in the love of Christ. One may think that we need to be willing
to spend time and money in order to help people, but I realized it is not all
about giving but more about receiving. Receiving a love and joy that are fulfilling
and eternal. We may see a lot of cultural differences and barriers that seem
impossible to be knocked down, but I learned, by only the love of Jesus Christ,
we can all become one, united in one family. When the time for reunification
of South and North Korea finally arrives, the only way that North and South
Koreans will become one after the 70-years of division is through the love of
Christ. I picture and dream of that day.
Every time I meet Pastor Chun, I am amazed at how he can love
people like they are his own children, even though he barely knows them. Pastor
Chun encouraged me to become a family to the three North Korean women since
he cannot come to the U.S. often to check on them. One of the most amazing gifts
that I receive from God is the privilege that we are of one family, even if
I met only once or not at all! We are a family in Christ. I am very grateful
to have the privilege that has not granted to anyone to reach out to His people
and call them my family in the name of Christ. Even today, I sincerely pray
for North Korea, a country that I have yet to set foot on, and for my family
I never met but whom I love in Christ.