Grace Jo

February 13, 2024

Grace Jo

February 13, 2024

“I was born in North Korea in 1991, and in 1994 Kim Jong Il replaced Kim-Il Sung, the first Supreme Leader. That’s when the rationing stopped.

We were forced to eat potato skins, tree bark, and roots that we collected ourselves. 

My parents began to smuggle giant sacks of rice and grains into China and trade them for goods that they could sell back home. 

One day my parents went to the street market, and they both were caught. Two months later my mother was released because they found out she was pregnant. My father never came home. 

For 10 years, we tried to escape and find sanctuary in China, but we were deported numerous times back to North Korea. Eventually, we met a Korean-American pastor who helped folks like us secure asylum from these oppressive regimes in North Korea and China. 

We were being hunted by the North Korean government, and I don’t know what they would have done to us if we hadn’t met that man. 

Coming to America was a second chance at life. I can’t describe it any other way than a miracle of God.

My sister got her driver’s license in the States, and in a way, it was a symbol of the new freedom we had. She wanted to take my mom and me on a ride.

She accidentally blew through a red light and an officer who was nearby pulled us over.

My mom panicked. She began yelling at my sister hitting her arm and saying like, “What did you do to us? We’re going to be killed.”

And my sister just laughed.

She said, “Mom, this is America. The officer will not take us back to North Korea, so it’s okay. I’m just going to get a ticket.”

When my mom heard this, she began laughing too and so did I.

When the officer approached us, he saw three ladies laughing inside the car that was pulled over.

He asked, “What’s going on here?”

At the time, we only spoke very basic English, but I was trying my best to explain to the officer.

I said, “We came from North Korea to America, and we are not afraid of you.”

And then the officer began to laugh too, and he took my sister’s ID. He came back with a warning ticket and said, “Welcome to America.”

That was the moment we knew we had finally found freedom.

During our 10 years in China, we were very lonely. We didn’t really belong, and we were in hiding, constantly on the move. We never told anyone we were from North Korea. When we were back in North Korea, we were treated like criminals. So we always had this feeling of not belonging to anywhere. 

When we came to America, we finally felt like we belonged. That changed a lot for us. 

We no longer had to be afraid.”

Grace Jo
Atlanta, Georgia

Grace is a refugee from North Korea who has become a U.S. citizen and now serves North Korean defectors with rescue and resettlement assistance.