SW didn’t understand the God her mother worshiped, or why she spent every day praying—often openly—risking arrest, imprisonment, torture, even death. “Life is trouble. If there’s trouble, you should pray,” SW’s mother would say.
As the years passed, SW’s mother grew more devout, praying unceasingly, even outdoors in the snow. SW remembered that her mother would also wash her hair and put on her nicest clothes to pray. “We approach God with the deepest reverence,” said her mother.
But it wouldn’t be until SW reached adulthood that her mother’s fervent prayer and bold faith would truly make an impact on her life.
North Korea, where SW and her family are from, has been at the top of Open Doors‘ World Watch List for the past 18 years. It is the most closed country in the world, governed by the cruel dictatorship of Kim Jong-Un—the latest ruler to come from the dynastic family that has controlled North Korea for more than 70 years. Christianity is considered a particularly serious threat to the regime. Children are indoctrinated to worship the country’s leadership, and there is no freedom of expression, speech or religion.
Open Doors works to support North Korean believers when the need arises. The situation in North Korea is uncertain and dangerous. Its government, under the dictatorial rule of Kim Jong-Un, keeps the people tightly controlled and oppressed.
SW eventually married and had children. But two of her six children died at an early age. Then, her husband lost his job and SW was forced to sell things on the black market to survive. She would often travel illegally on the train or carry heavy, frozen meat into the mountains to sell.
One day, SW tried to jump off a train before it came to a complete stop. Her leg got stuck and she was badly injured when she fell. Her spine became deformed and after a while, she could no longer straighten her back. But there was no money for medical care.
With their situation growing more and more desperate, SW and her husband sent their two eldest daughters to China. But they were sold into marriage to poor Chinese farmers. SW’s husband left to try and find their daughters, but a year later, he hadn’t returned.
“I had lost everything that was dear to me,” SW says. But it was in that moment that her dear mother’s unfailing prayer came back to her: “Lord! Lord! Help!” With God’s grace, SW located her missing husband and daughters and, along with her two younger children, they were all reunited in China.
The family attended a church, where they heard the entire gospel for the first time. “We had seen the faith of my mother,” SW shares. “But now we understood it. All of us accepted Jesus Christ that day. We felt peace in our hearts and unexplainable joy. It was so refreshing, as if the dirt in my eyes had been washed away and I could finally see God.”
But life still would not settle down for SW and her family. They were discovered by Chinese secret agents and sent back to North Korea—where they were sent to a prison camp. They were locked in solitary confinement, beaten and made to kneel in their cells for seven hours a day.
SW’s husband, whose faith was discovered by the guards, endured brutal beatings and torture. But he would not turn away from his faith. “The more they tortured him, the harder he defended his faith,” SW says. Beaten again and again, her husband would eventually die, due to the trauma.
After their release, SW and her youngest daughter escaped back to China and sought out their church. SW and two of her daughters now live in South Korea. Though she is still separated from her son and one of her daughters, her faith sustains her. And she prays every day, like her mother.