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Art Therapy: Escape from North Korea

February 11, 2016

** Names have been changed to protect identity. **

Several years ago I taught a little girl who escaped North Korea with her mother. I have held on to this story for some time and now want to share it with a wider audience for awareness. I often think about her and where she is now. Her story reminds me of why I am here in South Korea praying for this nation and North Korea.


We were on a field trip to the park. As I strolled through the gardens with my preschoolers, I couldn’t help but soak in the joy that exuded from my kiddos. While we all hummed along with the sunshine, one of my students walked alongside me with her shoulders slumped. I inquired, “Yunsoo, what’s wrong?”

“I miss my grandma.”

“Where is your grandma?”

“We left her. I used to go to the garden with my grandma.”

The conversation halted as we arrived at the busses. I could not help but feel the sadness that Yunsoo carried.

When we arrived back to the classroom, I decided to try something to help Yunsoo process what she was feeling. I have always had an interest in art therapy. I am not trained by any means, but I figured that I could at least give her some paper for drawing. I told her that she could write down and draw everything she was feeling or thinking. Yunsoo took the paper and went to work, staying focused and drawing several pictures. She eventually came to a stopping point.

My teaching assistant helped to translate her explanation for each picture.

You can read and see her story below:

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Grandma — still in the North

Mom — pregnant with Yunsoo

Aunt — told mom to leave too

Aunt — still in the North

We lived in the same village together.

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Mom and Yunsoo saying “bye” to Grandma. Dad went somewhere to make money when I was born. There was fighting. I thought that as not real father but I thought it was a stepfather. I realized after teh fight he wa not my real father. Real father had gone to make money. Step father hit mom with a slipper. My aunt got us to leave the North. I wish I could have brought my Grandma here. I miss her a lot.

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The river’s name is Akah. It means alligator or crocodile. Crossing the river but the boat was shaking a lot so my bottom hurt.

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Bed bus is next. I vomited on the bus. I got sick on the bus. We were on the bus for three nights. The bus goes over the mountain and it was very cold.

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We got off the bus and my feet were frozen.

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The time we got off the bus and there was another man waiting for us. The gave me a piggy-back ride to cross the river. I was wrapped a lot. I didn’t get so cold. The man slipped on the rock so I fell into the river and he grabbed my hand. My mother also slipped and hit her knee on a rock and hurt a little bit. Comparing to mom, I fell down hard. The water flows quickly. The water gets higher and higher so we had to go quickly. It was the night so we didn’t know there was so much water or rocks. Rock, waterfall, river.

The water comes up to my head. It was cold but I can stand it. Mom stood on the land saying something to me but I could not hear. I wasn’t scared. Only us there. The man went back to his house in North Korea.

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We went back to the mountains. It was a sunny day. I am like an owl. I don’t sleep at night I wasn’t sleepy. But I was sleepy during the day. Mom is waking me up. Mommy sleeps at night only and I sleep during the day only. Mommy says, “I just wake up right away but you don’t wake up. Do you want me to give you a piggy-back ride?” I was only four years old.

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Mommy sleeping at night and I am awake. I am sleeping at day time. It is cold at night so I cannot sleep. I look at the stars at night. We are in China and we must not be caught by anyone in China. I’m waking up mommy because I cannot sleep and I want to sleep. My mom is snoring.

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We were caught by Chinese police officers. We had to stay in prison in China for three months. There are many people. No Chinese. Only Korea. They made us work. The police yelled at us and said, “Come out!” The food was delicious. I like pork cutlet. I like curry. I was with my mom. I can’t remember what I did buy my mom digs the land. Men dig around and the women carry the sol to some place. Women and men have to be separated. I pressed buttons with other children. From five years old you have to do this job. From thirteen years old you have to dig.

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The police officer said, “It is time. Go.” I think everyone was Korean. Everyone had a plane ticket. The airplane ticket said to Korea. When mommy said “go” I looked under and found a ticket. It said Korea. My mom’s friend gave the ticket to my mom. I met her in China. She is at the same age as my mom. It seems like they are good friends and she gave the ticket to my mom. That’s how we got to Korea. This is my house apartment #323 maybe. I think that is right.

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I sleep now in my house. We had bunk beds. I sleep on the top and my mom sleeps down. The bunk bed has a ladder and a slide. My mom bought this.


Teaching Yunsoo was a rich experience and a privilege. I was able to see Yunsoo slowly adapt to South Korean society. When she first came, she spoke very harshly with a very direct and stern tone to others. I believe she must have picked that up from her time in prison and possibly from her life in North Korea. Over time she softened up.

There were times that I had to tell her to not talk about her experiences. I know her mother did not want her speaking of them and it was not always appropriate. I remember catching her talk about rotting food and maggots one time at lunch.

I also was able to share Christ with her for the first time. She did not believe in God as she was raised to believe there is no God. Only their leader is to be exalted. I am thankful that she now has the freedom to seek God without oppression.

Before the end of the year, her mother wrote me a sweet note and made this origami trinket at a refugee center here in Seoul.

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We must not forget to pray for those who are in North Korea and for those who have escaped. They may be sitting next to you on the subway or even in your classroom. They carry a heavy burden and deep wounds that only God can heal.

May we one day see the reunification of North and South Korea as well as the liberation of thousands of people in concentration camps and those who are living under the oppression of the North Korean regime. Until then, we are prisoners of hope.

I’ll leave you with this song that Sean Feucht wrote specifically for North Korea, “Finish What You’ve Started”:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason Bongiovanni permalink
    February 11, 2016 11:36 am

    Thank you for sharing this story honey! It helps remind me why God brought us and so many others to this nation. To pray and be a blessing.

  2. Lori Spaulding permalink
    May 8, 2016 3:44 am

    Sigh. Incredible story from an incredible lady. I had no idea, of course. Your faith and trust in God shines through! You are amazing. So blessed to have had such close friends, including Jason. Thank you for being truthful, teaching us what to watch out for, etc. God bless you, sweet girl. We love you, dearly! Uncle Danny & Aunt Lori ❤️

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