Churches Unite to Free Oppressed N. Korea

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With the declining popularity of dictator Kim Jong Il and the pending transfer of power to his son, some are predicting that communist North Korea is headed for a collapse.

As a result, Christian leaders believe this is a critical time to call upon the power of prayer for freedom in the oppressed county.

A Painful Picture

Danny Lee, 24, remembers his childhood in North Korea.  His grandmother raised him alone after police arrested his Christian mother.  Like thousands of others, she found herself in a concentration camp.

She fled the country after her release, and at 17, Danny escaped to China to begin his search for his mother. He paid a broker who helped to facilitate his escape.

"I thought, 'I want to get out of here' ... because everything was so hard," Lee recalled to CBN News. "And I didn't have too much, no food."

But escaping from North Korea is not easy, even after crossing the Tumen River into to China.

"China doesn't protect," filmmaker Justin Wheeler told CBN News. "China looks at them as economic migrants, and so will not protect North Korean refugees currently."

Hiding: An Escape Journey

In the documentary "Hiding," Wheeler follows five North Korean refugees like Lee on their harrowing 3,500 mile journey from China to southeast Asia. It's a modern day underground railroad, but most never reach freedom.

"I think one of the most shocking moments was with a conversation I had with one of the refugees in the film. He actually escaped North Korea because he had a dream about King David in the Bible," Wheeler said.  "And he had never heard of the gospel before. He had never heard of Jesus. He had never heard of God before."

Wheeler is part of LINK, a human rights organization that helped Danny Lee and other North Korean refugees find freedom. The Southern California-based group has hosted 400 screenings of its eye-opening film across the country, raised more than $100,000, and launched 110 new LINK chapters at high schools and colleges.

"We want to redefine the way people think about North Korea and the North Korean people," said LINK executive director Hannah Song. "We want to provide emergency relief to North Koreans wherever they can be reached."

Ending the Human Rights Crisis

In the growing cry to end the human rights crisis, some of the loudest voices come from Korean American Christians. Southern California's Bethel Church is home to one of the largest Korean congregations in America. Each week, some 6,000 people attend the church for worship and they all share one burden -- praying for the freedom of North Korea.

Bethel's pastor Peter Sohn has called upon other Korean churches to join the mission. He and 1,600 pastors in Los Angeles started praying in 2004.

Recalling the emotion of that first meeting, Sohn told CBN News, "Ministers bursted into tears when we prayed together with one single heart and we repented for we have been too much silent."

"And we have been too much busy for our own ministry," he added. "We almost forgot what they are suffering now in North Korea. So we have tears, and we cried out. Just like Nehemiah did for his own people in Jerusalem."

Freedom March

Pastor Sohn has now formed the Korean Church Coalition. He is now preparing to lead a Christian march in South Korea, as North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Il prepares to transfer power to his son Kim Jong-Uhn. He compares the march to some of the pivotal events of America's Civil Rights struggle.

"I remember the Martin Luther King march from Atlanta going up to Washington, DC. with more than one million people. And that great man of God proclaimed I have a dream. I have a dream in God. Now it is about time, we Korean Christians get together and we have got to hear that famous sermon and proclamation, 'We have a dream.' God will help us. And God will free the North Korean men and women, our fellows."

Bitter Sweet Freedom

Until all of North Korea is free, it's difficult for Danny Lee to fully enjoy his new life in Southern California.  His eyes filled with tears at the end of his interview with CBN News.

The tears were for his grandmother. She died of starvation in North Korea not long after he escaped.

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.