Joseph Kim was born to an ordinary family in North Korea. Until the age of 5 he lived a relatively normal life in the closed-off country tightly controlled by its totalitarian regime. But in the mid-1990s a terrible famine swept the country and lasted more than a decade. Millions died in the disaster, including Joseph's father. After his mother was arrested and his sister sold into marriage, Joseph found himself alone on the streets begging for food.
After three years living on the streets, he made the desperate decision to flee to China.
"I had been informed by others that China had…if not surplus, at least people don't die of starvation. That information really compelled me and I knew that as long as I make it to China, at least I'm not going to die of starvation," he said.
However, he found survival in China nearly as difficult as in North Korea. Most people either didn't have the money or the desire to help Korean refugees living in their country.
Eventually, Joseph found help from a church that gave him money to buy food. Later he found safe haven with a Chinese-Korean Christian woman who took him into her home. While living with the woman he called 'Grandma,' he read the Bible and learned about Christianity and began what he calls his "spiritual journey."
"Growing up in North Korea, I never really heard of religion, God, Jesus," he said. "So it was really difficult for me to understand what religion was and what Christians are."
But because Christians were the ones who took the risk to help him and other refugees, it sparked his curiosity and desire to learn more about religion, he said. Several months after coming to China, an underground Christian group helped him escape to the United States, where his is studying for his college degree and continues his spiritual journey.