by Jade Shao:
Brought to New Haven by a North Korean advocacy group on campus, Steve Kim spoke to students at a Silliman Master’s Tea this Monday afternoon. On the surface, Steve Kim is a church minister who lives in Huntington, New York, but upon further inspection, we discover a man who is widely known as the “Korean Schindler” whose mission is to protect and help North Korean refugees. Steve Kim is the founder of 318 Partners, a humanitarian, non-profit organization dedicated to the freedom of North Korea through rescuing refugees and supporting underground churches and missionaries in North Korea.
On September 23, 2003, Mr. Kim was arrested by the Chinese police while he was helping 9 North Korean refugees escape to South Korea through a route he had established through Vietnam. Sentenced to 5 years in prison and released on Sept 25, 2007 after 4 full years in prison, Mr. Kim currently stands as the longest jailed American in a Chinese prison. His story has appeared on NBC, ABC and the LA Times, where he is often asked “why the number 318” as the namesake of his organization, which turns out to be a story in and of itself.
Mr. Kim explains his reasoning for choosing the number 318 is that when the Chinese government arrested him, they applied Chinese Criminal Law Article # 318, “illegally helping 3rd parties to cross the border.” Coincidentally, this number shows up again the bible verse, Genesis 14:14, in which Abraham sent 318 warriors to save his captured nephew. At that point, the devout Christian inside him couldn’t ignore the connection and decided to name his efforts after this significant number. As the leader of a very faith-based association, Mr. Kim often proclaimed, “God gave me a vision,” as an introduction to his actions, such as planting underground “family” churches inside North Korea, successfully maintaining four within the first year.
In addition to starting churches under the radar, “providence” had given Mr. Kim another task during the late 1990s, when due to a food shortage, many desperate North Koreans crossed over to china in search of sustenance. This created a dramatic increase in human trafficking, since Chinese businessmen saw a profit in selling those vulnerable women, who had just crossed the river, into prostitution. “Naturally,” said Mr. Kim, “the women would run away to nearby churches. This is where 318 Partners comes in, with its network with other religious institutions; we hear about these cases and do our best to help them. So far we’ve rescued 66 women.”
Contrary to the widespread belief that North Korea is an impenetrable region, or even a black hole of information, Mr. Kim busts these myths by telling us that “times have changed. Missionaries are allowed entrance and certain items can be brought in as long as they are “registered”. His organization has been able to smuggle phones to the underground churches since the border guards are used to taking bribes and “money talks” in North Korean cities. They’ve even attempted riskier projects of sending DVDs of the Arab spring movements disguised as balloons or mp3 players that are actually audio bibles.
Lastly and most effectively, is the spread of the popular Korean dramas, which give North Koreans a glimpse into how the rest of the world lives and what life is supposed to be. It’s clear that awareness is growing and it’s only a matter of time before passive realization turns into an active fight for freedom.