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"I Was a Broker" (36)
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2016-01-26 12:30:04
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"I Was a Broker" (36)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



On December 16th, 1 pm, the Korean Air flight carrying me ended safely in Incheon airport. “Lord, thank you for saving this sinner.” I prayed unconsciously. I quickly exited the airport following protocol. My clothes were dirty since prison life was so uncomfortable, and my appearance was shabby. I wanted to get away from prying eyes as soon as possible. There were many people holding small and large sign in the arrival hall, waiting to greet people. I didn’t want to shame anyone with my pathetic appearance, and I was returning as a defeated man. I wanted to get away from the crowd in front of me as soon as possible so I didn’t even raise my head as I almost ran through the airport when somebody called out to me. I quickly looked back to see a huge crowd holding large placards and pickets, waiting to welcome someone. I thought they were waiting for some famous organization or for a celebrity. I kept walking when somebody called out to me again. I told myself that no one knew that I was coming back to South Korea as I turned to look again when I realized that a large placard toward the back read, “Welcome North Korean Human Rights Activist Ryu Sang-Jun.” Tim Peterson, Norbert Polochen and many others were waving at me clapping loudly. I realized that this crowd had been waiting for me and I wondered how they knew I was arriving today. I ran toward them in welcome recognizing Lee Kyung-Whan from North Korea Aid Movement, Choi Young-Hoon from Movement for the Release of Ryu Sang-Jun, Priest Simon and many others. They greeted me like a war hero, consoling me with their embrace. I cried at their concern and love for me even though I was a defeated sinner. I was already thankful enough for their efforts that led to my release, yet they overwhelmed me with such a heroic welcome. I thanked the lord and I felt that I owed them all a great debt of love. Tim Peterson seems overcome with joy at the sight of me. Polochen and Mr. Choi couldn’t be happier as if I was their flesh and blood. Mr. Peterson handed me several letters explaining that many came to the airport thinking that I was arriving yesterday. They left when I didn’t arrive and left letters containing their love and support. Pastor Simon who had quietly support my release came to the airport despite his busy schedule and comforted me with his distinct clear laugh. He shared news that the refugees who used to be ex-soldiers that I had helped rescue were now all healthy and attending colleges. Joy and happiness remained etched into his face. I thanked Lee Kyung-Hwan for coming to my trial and apologized for not being able to greet him properly then. He had sent Kim Sang-Chul, head of North Korea Aid Movement, to welcome me in his stead. Many amazing things have occurred and I owed it all to the grace and blessings of Christ. After sharing stories with my welcoming party at the airport waiting room, I headed home with Choi Young-Hoon on the train. On our way back, he told me about the tireless efforts of the churches, missionary organizations, and human rights organizations for my freedom and I had discovered an interesting fact in his stories. Han Chang-Gun, Chairman of Association of Free North Korea, and members had sent petitions to the South Korean government concerning my release. They had protested in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, demanding my freedom. This was the first time I had heard of this association, and I had never met Han Chang-Gun before.. I was thankful that they had worked for my freedom, but it was a unique situation where the Association of Free North Korea (which is a voluntary association of North Korean Defectors) had worked for the freedom of a defector through active demonstrations and campaigns. I learned through Mr. Choi’s words that this organization was very proactive and committed to North Korean human rights—I felt grateful. Mr. Choi also told me about news in South Korea and I also discovered that Choi Yong-Ho, representative of Freedom Youth Movement, had put in continuous effort in liberating me through working with the Foreign Affairs department in the Chinese Embassy.


December in South Korea felt warm as I went to see my elderly neighbor who had taken care of me as if I was her own son. When I entered her house, the room was filled with women from the neighborhood. They were deep in conversation and looked at me in confusion. I told the elderly lady if she was well and she ran toward me, embracing me with joy. She asked me why I haven’t been in touch to which I replied that I had some business complications. She seemed angry and hit me in the shoulder with her fists. She seemed to know everything as she asked after my health, handing me a letter. The letter was from Lee Kyung Hwan, head of North Korea Aid Movement, who said that I was in prison and asked her to take care of my house in my absence. She told me that she had been worried about me and that the office thought I ran away after selling the house to a stranger. Even the police asked after how I was paying my taxes, which was taking care of my house, and my bank accounts. She told me that she had been so worried about me with no way of knowing if I was alive or dead. I briefly summarized all that had occurred for her before finally heading to my house. I was the first time I had been home since I left in June. The house was neat with the radiator keeping the house warm. I finally felt as though I was back in the land of living. It was difficult to fight the bitter cold in the prison cell and I obsessive longed for my warm home in the south. When she had heard that I was coming back from the police, she called up the neighbors to clean my house and get it ready for my arrival. I thanked her for her warmth and generosity. South Korea is beautiful country. The love and concern of our neighbors exceed the beauty of South Korea herself. The reason that I could work until today was because there were people supporting and loving me. It was a miracle that I had been freed so quickly and this miracle was brought about by all the love and concern of these people. I was speechless in this dreamlike reality and all I could do was thank the Lord. Kwang-Il from Daejon somehow knew I had returned, and called me thank me for my troubles and asked me to meet up with him, Missionary B and Jung Do-Ma tomorrow in Seoul. Kwang-Il had been in South Korea for a few years and he seemed busy with his corporate life. He could have simply called and I asked him not to come such a long way in case it hurt his position at work. It would be endless to thank all those who helped me.