Back into the Darkness (North Korean Torture, Escape, and Redemption)

Far off the busy South Korean streets, our small Alpha Relief team quietly sits opposite Hana, a North Korean escapee who wants to tell us her story. It is a journey filled with pain and she absent-mindedly fidgets with the scarf around her neck, a piece of clothing much too warm for the late spring temperature. The scarf is, however, very effective at covering a secret ... a secret we are about to learn. 

Growing up inside North Korea, food was scarce for Hana’s family. When her husband died from sickness due to malnutrition, she began questioning what might exist outside of the closed North Korean borders. Bribing a hungry border guard, the young woman quietly made her escape into China to look for a better life.

Just one week later she was discovered by Chinese police, bound in chains, and brought back inside North Korea as a traitor. As she waited for her punishment, authorities discovered that Hana’s grandmother had a record with the government as an identified Christian. Although Hana emphatically professed the truth that she had no knowledge of the religion, guards began mercilessly torturing her.

Hana recounts being strapped to a chair, raised off the floor by a chain pulley, then dropped violently as her bones and muscles bruised with the intense trauma. Wire was strung around her neck and then violently yanked tight, choking the air from her windpipe. Hana momentarily pauses her re-telling to again fidget with the scarf around her neck. She tells us the scarf hides the area where the wire had cut into her delicate skin. It’s then we realize some of her scars from those horrible days will always remain. 

The battered woman’s anger should have been directed toward her grandmother for the undeserved pain. Instead, Hana’s thoughts of the old woman’s gentle singing, quickly became her only comfort. Throughout her torture, she would hum those same melodies, using them as her only source for staying sane. Later, she would realize that her grandmother’s songs were old Korean Gospel Hymns, carrying words that would bring her true freedom.

Hana was eventually set free. Completely disillusioned with the lies her country had told her, she could think of nothing else but escape. 

The details of her harrowing journey to once-and-for-all leave North Korea behind are a powerful story in and of themselves. After almost a year on the run, Hana finally made it to South Korea. There she met friends of Alpha Relief who oversee a church community which embraces North Korean refugees. Although hostile to the Gospel at first, Hana found her heart softening with each act of love the church offered her. It wasn’t long before she embraced the faith of her grandmother and asked Jesus to be her Savior.

Our team frequently asks about future dreams when visiting with North Koreans who have escaped. Hana’s answer surprised us. She said she hopes to one day lead a team of missionaries back into North Korea to help build a church community for those remaining in darkness.

Light in the darkness. Hope for the very persecutors who left her with scars. It’s the kind of story only Jesus could write.

Interested in joining Hana and other brave heroes in bringing light into the darkness? You’ll find some great ways to get involved below.