At 17 years old, Sookyung Kang took the 3,000 mile journey from North Korea to freedom because she wanted to worship God.
It began with a choice familiar to many Christians across history. Would she leave behind her family and home to worship God or would she remain under tyranny in North Korea?
“What should I do God? I want to be able to dream. I want to live the life I choose. But I don’t want to abandon my family. What should I do?” she recalled. “In the end, I chose my dreams and freedom.”
Kang lived in North Korea’s Ryanggang province, on the country’s northern border with China. North Koreans on the Chinese border often resort to smuggling to eat, The New York Times reported. The constant battle with starvation is the North Korean government’s way to make sure people don’t ever think about being free, she said.
“By not satisfying the basic needs of food, sleep and safety, the system forces you to only focus on getting these needs met,” she said.
The group North Korea’s Communist Party most hates are Christians, she said. Because the regime tries to keep control by convincing people its leaders are gods, it fears people who don’t worship them.
“This is a regime that fears religion, that fears Christianity,” Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told The Christian Post. “The northern half of Korea once was the cradle of the Korean Presbyterian Church. When the Kim regime took over, Christianity was exterminated with extreme prejudice. North Koreans must participate in weekly ideological training sessions and believe that the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are eternal.”
Kang’s uncle was a Christian missionary in North Korea. Eventually, the police caught him sharing the Gospel and imprisoned him, she said. Before his arrest, she said she was sheltered from the realities of North Korean life.
“He put his life on the line and lived each day as if it was his last,” she said. “As I started visiting my uncle in prison to bring him food, I started seeing North Korea as it really is.”
In 2011, Kang set out on her journey. She crossed the border into China and met with workers from Liberty in North Korea, who helped her avoid police and human traffickers on the way to South Korea. If the Chinese find North Korean defectors, they capture them and return them to North Korea to face punishment. When Kang arrived in South Korea, she worshiped God.
“Being able to worship and praise however I wanted in South Korea, I was so thankful for this freedom. My heart was full of gratitude,” she said. “I don’t think I came to South Korea without a purpose.”
Kang said she plans to attend graduate school in the United States so that when North Korea opens to the world, she can help rebuild her nation.
“I’m getting ready for it,” she said. “That is my vision. Freedom is expressing your faith.”