North Korean refugees make it to BYU


Nearly 10 years ago, North Korean native Donghyun Kim told his wife Jiyein Song he was leaving town on a business trip. Song believed this trip would only last 15 days, but she began to worry when he never returned. Little did she know, Kim had escaped North Korea and was making his way through China, Laos, Thailand and into South Korea.

Kim and Song lived in North Korea until 2009 when they made their separate escapes, ended up in South Korea and obtained visas to come to America. They are now taking classes at BYU and living with a BYU professor.

When Kim left North Korea, claiming he was leaving on a business trip, Song had no idea he was planning on fleeing the country they then called home. If he mentioned anything of his escape to her, she could be put to death. Thus, the secrecy. When her husband didn’t come back, she feared he had been killed or thrown into prison.

In a country where both Kim and Song were forced to watch executions as children and where one could be thrown into prison for failing to address their leader by his full title — “Supreme (or Great) Leader Kim Jong Un” — these fears were not absurd.

Song did not know Kim had escaped, though he did it with several close calls. In one instance, Kim approached a river where an army patrol formed along the near side and China waited on the other. Kim and his group, led by a broker and including a four-year-old boy, had to approach the river when the patrol was the farthest away. They would then get into a boat and cross the river.

At one point, while the army patrol was passing, a soldier broke off and started walking straight toward their group hiding in a corn field. Panic struck them as they wondered if the soldier had seen or heard anything. They couldn’t look up, lest the soldiers see the whites of their eyes.

The stray soldier continued toward them and walked into the corn field where they were hidden. Kim’s thoughts started racing. “Are we going to run? Are we going to fight? What do we do?” he asked himself.

To Kim’s relief, the soldier was only walking to the corn field to use the bathroom and didn’t notice the group just beyond the rows of corn in front of him.

Kim was so shaken from the near encounter that it took him several moments to move again. If they had been caught, it would have all been over.

After months of uncertainty — not knowing what had become of her husband — Song got a phone call from her husband asking if she was OK. He was alive.

After some time, a second phone call came, and it was arranged that she would meet a broker in a northern city where she would call her husband.

According to an article written by the Deseret News, when she was finally able to speak to her husband, Song broke into tears.

It was a huge risk to leave the country, for those caught fleeing are not often treated with kindness; however, Song decided to take the risk.

“She risked her life for love,” Kim said of his wife.

Leading up to his escape from North Korea and throughout his journey, Kim said he had experiences that led him to believe in a higher power, though God wasn’t a word used commonly in North Korea.

Before Song left on her journey, Kim had asked her to please pray to God. However, Song did not know who God was or what Kim was referring to when he said that word.

“Why are you saying strange things?” Song asked.

Kim told her to just trust him and pray. If she did, God would protect her.

Once Kim and Song had both safely made it to South Korea and established a life for themselves there, Kim began to investigate this idea of God.

Every Sunday, Kim brought Song to the Catholic church in their area. However, this was very difficult for Song. She didn’t believe in God or the idea of life after death, and she often fell asleep during church services.

After three years of Kim trying to convince Song to believe in God and several meetings with the LDS sister missionaries, Song told Kim she wanted to attend the LDS church. He willingly agreed because he thought Song would never change.

Song began to attend the LDS church regularly. She would eagerly ask for rides to church, which was very strange to Kim. She also began to talk about God and the next life.

Song once asked Kim who he wanted to live with in the next life. He told her he was sure he would live with her in the next life.

“If you want to, you have to be baptized in my church and we have to be sealed in the temple,” Song said.

Kim wondered what had changed in his wife, but the words resonated with him. He began to wonder about baptism and life after death.

Song then presented a proposal: if her husband went to sacrament meeting with her and told her he thought the church was wrong, she would stop going.

Kim said he felt a strong feeling he had never experienced before. He thought to himself, “Oh, here is God’s spirit.”

Song was then baptized in July 2014, and Kim was baptized in December 2014.

After spending some time as member of the South Korean congregation, Kim and Song decided to leave South Korea to improve their English. Members of the congregation convinced them that BYU had a great program and that they should go there.

After making their way to Provo, Kim and Song met up with a BYU Korean professor.

After developing a friendship with him, the professor offered his home as a place for them to live for free, where they now live, paying nothing but utilities.

After many years of marriage and two miscarriages, the couple is now expecting a baby.

“It’s a blessing,” Song said.

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