National Geographic : 2009 Feb
• believing in Kim Il Sung to believing in God. ey change in head, not heart." Black s faith seemed intense, and as he talked, the missionary beamed. He said that the turning point in Black s education had come when they were in an Internet café. "I asked him to type in Kim Jong Il personal life on the browser, and when stories came up of a airs and illegitimate children, I watched the light come on in his face as he realized he had been fed lies all his life." At one point during the meal Black pulled a small wooden cross from under his shirt and held it as if it were a warm, breathing thing. "My dream," he said, "is to attend a seminary in South Korea and then to return to my home village to preach the Gospel." When I men- tioned that if he were caught in North Korea carrying a Bible, he could be shot, Black said, "I am following God s plan." The moment came. Pastor Chun received the go- ahead from his operatives for the escape to begin---a 2,000-mile train trip from Beijing Black had been tricked by his broker, sold to a Korean-Chinese gangster to carry drugs and money back and forth across the Tumen. "I refused to help," said Black, who was otherwise vague about how he survived those early days in China. His darkest time followed the sale of his girlfriend to an aging addict, a er which Black lost contact with her. Eventually Black heeded the advice whispered among defectors: "Head for a cross." Thirty or more churches around Yanji o er temporary refuge to North Koreans, along with food and clothing. eir pastors stay out of trouble as long as they don t openly proselytize or draw attention to their support for the defectors. As soon as Black found shelter at a church, he took Bible lessons and became a star con- vert, attracting Pastor Chun s notice. Chun prefers that the North Koreans he helps adopt Christianity, but he accepts that a defector s professed belief may be skin-deep, a means of survival. "Many are not real Christians," he told me. "For them it isn t that di erent from MEKONG RIVER I Darkness settles over the river (right), providing cover for North Koreans who slip over in boats from Laos to Thailand. After an anxious crossing, the defectors known in the story as White (left, at left) and Red (at right) huddled in the back of a vehicle that met them on the Thai shore. Later that day both women reached Bangkok, where they requested asylum. "I WAS SUDDENLY SCARED OF BEING CAUGHT; AFTER ALL WE'D BEEN THROUGH, THERE WAS NO GUARANTEE WE'D MAKE IT."