If you don’t know his story, you can see it prominently showcased in the film “Beyond Utopia,” which won the Audience Award for US Documentary at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film, currently seeking distribution, captures the harrowing journeys of several North Korean refugees — parents, a grandmother, and young children.
In 2000, Kim, a businessman at the time, visited the North Korea-China border, witnessing “dozens of emaciated bodies of North Koreans streaming down the Tumen River. It was too horrible to watch,” Kim said.
That visit changed his life.
Kim spent the next 20-odd years embodying OFF’s theme of “solidarity” by smuggling these defectors out of Kim Jong-un’s repressive regime, often taking the perilous trek with them. Refugees generally take a multi-day journey through China — another authoritarian regime — from its North Korean border to the southern Yunnan province. A trip that requires rotating drivers and a network of safe houses.
Pastor Kim has, deservedly, gained international recognition for his work with this modern-day “underground railroad,” which ingeniously circumvents North Korean surveillance. Through a wide network of brokers and escape routes, Kim has rescued over 1,000 defectors since 2000.
“As long as I don’t give up, I will be able to save at least one more precious life,” he said.
But Kim doesn’t just drop now-free North Koreans off in a new country and abandons them there: He helps them become self-reliant. The Caleb Mission’s “North Korean Defectors Community Center” helps them adjust to life in South Korea and encourages dialogue between North and South Koreans. And through global and South Korean legal advocacy, Kim also provides support to homeless North Korean orphans who have fled the country.
Pastor Kim’s faith and commitment to social justice for North Koreans continue to inspire people around the world. He and other changemakers will be sharing their stories on the Oslo Konserthus stage on June 13-15 for the 15th annual Oslo Freedom Forum.