Kang Hyeok (a pen name) remains in hiding in China after his second escape from North Korea. A 28-year-old graduate of Susan College, Sinpo, in North Korea, his experience illustrates why an increasing number of North Koreans are fleeing hunger and oppression, and why many Christians are coming to their aid.
The following is an excerpt from memoirs appearing in the South Korean monthly Sindonga. We enter Kang's story in 1997, as he is waiting for a train between Pyongyang and Keomkol, at Sinseongcheon Station in North Korea.
The waiting room was full of a crowd waiting for the train. A young man was eating bread.
An old woman beside him said, "Excuse me, would you give me some bread? I haven't eaten anything for two days. I am really hungry."
"I am sorry, but look at me," the man replied. "I gave my clothes for food." The old woman dropped her head without saying any more. At that moment someone shouted, "Listen to me, is this the socialism we pursue? No other way but to sit and starve to death?"
Everyone turned their eyes toward the man. How can he dare say that? How will he be treated? A cold silence spread. He closed his eyes and did not move, as if he knew his fate. A security officer appeared and said, "Hey, you, show me your id card!"
Without even looking at the man's ID card and traveling certificate, however, the official handcuffed him—and detained me and everyone else near enough to have heard his comment. Overhearing the ideologically suspicious comment was our crime.
We had waited for three days to take the train in front of us. That moment was the starting point of events that would lead to my attempt to escape to China.
Kang escaped from detention but was apprehended and sentenced to six months of hard labor (reduced ...