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A Christian missionary jailed in North Korea has done what many prisoners in the communist state never do – he has emerged alive to tell about his horrific experience.
The testimony of a Korean-Chinese man referred to only as “Lee” to protect his identity recently was obtained by Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian organization that helps persecuted believers around the world.
“I went into North Korea on Feb. 25, 2004, to meet with some appointed families. They were living in such terrible conditions that I could not look at them without tears. I bought some clothing for them as it was bitter cold,” wrote Lee.
The missionary says a woman in his Chinese church gave him an ID number to use in traveling to North Korea, saying it belonged to her cousin. When authorities saw the ID number, they immediately arrested Lee, who later discovered the woman was a North Korean spy. He had been set up.
Wrote Lee of his prison experience: “Between March 5 and 19, I was interrogated daily. Because of the beatings I began to have severe pains in my liver and kidney. My whole body shook uncontrollably. When I tried to stand, I collapsed on the floor. They took all my money and hired two guards who were also experts in judo.”
Lee says at one point the authorities believed he was near death, so they transferred him to another location and fed him well to make sure he stayed alive.
“Within two weeks I had recovered, so they brought me back to the interrogation center where I was again beaten and tortured for another 54 days,” wrote Lee. “During this time, I would think of Joseph who was also in prison and Daniel in the lion’s den. God was unchanged – and as He was with those before me, He would watch over me. I kept my faith.”
Why torture a man for weeks on end?
Stated Lee: “My No. 1 crime against the People’s Republic of Korea is that for the past eight years I have been spreading the gospel in NK, bringing people to Christ.”
Lee said he also was accused of partnering with American spies
The missionary speaks of the conditions in the North Korean prison:
“The prison camps are like a living hell. A man I saw had been arrested for stealing. They beat him so bad he became mentally unstable. Once in a while, he’d say, ‘Just kill me!’ Because of this, the guards kicked him and stepped on him until he was half dead. Then they released him temporarily and arrested him again.
“He became unrecognizable. They’d beat him every morning with thick bats because he wasn’t able to walk properly. He started developing bloody puss all over, along with severe diarrhea. When he couldn’t control his diarrhea, they would beat him and confiscated his meals – a few spoonfuls of rice. He got so hungry that he started to eat dirty rags that were used to clean the toilets. He spent 28 days in the prison. He had not a soul to console him, and just like that, he died in his prison cell. What a tragedy. This is the reality of North Korea’s prison camps, and when I think about it, I cannot help but to cry.”
Lee says it doesn’t matter who a prisoner is; the abusive guards do not discriminate.
Wrote Lee: “Who you are is not important to them. You can be an old grandma or a grandpa – it doesn’t matter. They swear at you and beat you relentlessly. I’ve seen it all. It is said that one half of the prisoners in the interrogation center will die within 10 months.”
Many of the prisoners are people who had tried to escape the totalitarian nation, one a man who was trying to secure medicine for his sick son. The father had been in the camp for 10 months and was skin and bones, Lee said.
“Among the defectors, the oldest man was 78 years old,” wrote the missionary. “The youngest was 9 years old – an orphan who had wandered out in search for food and ended up living in China for a few months before getting caught.”
Lee says his heroes are those Christians who have endured hardship, torture and the loss of their lives – but who never denounced their faith:
“They truly live and die for the Gospel, and they are my heroes. Though their lives were short, what they’ve done will forever shine with Christ.”
Lee said one prisoner, a woman whose only crime was bringing one Bible to North Korea from China, is serving a three-year sentence. Another Christian woman of 19 was caught with four Bibles. Lee says she has since disappeared.
The missionary says the officers holding him promised to release him if he stole two cars. He refused. His captors then set a fine of the equivalent of several thousand dollars that would secure his release.
After Voice of the Martyrs offered to help free Lee, his family borrowed enough money to pay the fee to the North Korean authorities earlier this year. VOM then paid off the debt incurred by Lee’s family.
Concluded Lee: “I want to thank those who paid my debt. If I had chosen to give up my life in North Korea, we could have saved that money. I’m sorry for spending that money and coming back alive.
“I’m thankful for His grace that protects my life and grants me the opportunity to share the love that my Lord, Jesus Christ, demonstrated on the cross. It is truly more precious than my own life.”
Lee’s present location is not public knowledge since he has had threats on his life. Voice of the Martyrs says the North Korean regime has assassins in China and elsewhere who target those who are seen as enemies of the state.
To read an extensive, groundbreaking report on Christian persecution in North Korea, sign up for the Voice of the Martyrs award-winning free newsletter. The North Korea expose is scheduled for the newsletter’s September edition. Sign up now so you miss this eye-opening feature.