"I didn't want to become a Christian," the pastor said, offering a wry smile. "It was an accident."
North Korean escapee Eom Myong-hui was describing her personal faith journey from atheist to committed Christian, from member of the Korean Workers' Party to Protestant minister. Among North Korean escapees, she is unusual, though not alone, in becoming a pastor. She is far from unusual, however, in her Christian beliefs. A large percentage of the North Koreans who escape to China make the same spiritual journey.
As she tells it, converting to Christianity began as a business decision. In the 1990s, during the famine, she went into the business of selling Korean antiques and specialty foods such as ginseng root across the border in China. Both the business itself and the trips to China were illegal, but times were hard, the trade was lucrative, and she had a husband and two young daughters to feed at home.
Her principal buyer—and the person on whom her livelihood depended at the time—was a Chinese-Korean man who would visit North Korea to pick up the wares she was peddling. After they had been doing business together for a while, he confided to her that he was a Christian. She knew it was dangerous to associate with Christians, but she was afraid of losing his business, so she listened politely.
"When he started talking to me about Christianity, I didn't respond in any negative way," she said. "I just nodded my head and listened. I wanted to be on his good side. My only purpose was making money."