Fleeing War in Korea
It took time, benevolence and a minor miracle to finally arrive in Canada and begin a new life
In the summer of 1947, members of the Communist party knocked on our door without notice and ordered us out of our home and off our property, taking with us only the clothes we wore. The sole reason for our eviction was that my parents owned a very large (and coveted) farmland property in Seoncheon, North Korea.
Our family was devastated, but we quickly decided to escape to South Korea with the hope of finding a new life. We made a long trip to the border area and waited unobtrusively until dark to avoid the eyes of the many border guards. After crossing successfully, we made our way to the nearest seaport. To our disappointment, there was only one small boat available to take us to South Korea. Our family of nine members had to split up! Six got on the boat, while my grandfather and my mother decided to make it to South Korea via a dangerous route through the mountains. Grandfather carried me, two years old at the time, all the way on his back. Only by God’s mercy did we all arrive safely in South Korea. We were then taken to a refugee camp in Seoul, where our family settled in and struggled to eke out a living.
Three years later, in June 1950, the North Korean military forces suddenly invaded South Korea. My father and my grandfather were killed by a bomb explosion and my uncle was kidnapped.
On January 4, 1951, Seoul citizens were informed of an evacuation order by the government. Once again, the remaining members of our family separated for safety reasons.
My desperate mother took me and ran to the Seoul train station, which was overcrowded by refugees, and the train was already full. But a very kind person helped us climb up on the train’s roof, which was also full. Late at night, our train arrived at the city of Busan. A few days later, a dock-landing ship of the U.S. Navy arrived at Busan harbour, and we were among the countless refugees who were transferred to Jeju island. We were placed in a tiny shelter with ten other families.
For our survival, my mother had to work every day from dawn to dark, and I was left at home alone. I often followed some of the older kids, looking for something to eat, like grass roots, flowers, wild berries, grasshoppers and pupa of silkworms that were roasted over a bonfire. This type of food often gave me bad tummy aches.
One day, I followed the older kids to a refugees church and I joined the Sunday school. It was there
your family’s story about coming to Canada at ourcanada.ca or see page 64 for our address.
I heard about the “Good News of Jesus Christ” and I believed in Him. My young life took on a new meaning and I felt heavenly joy and peace at the church and everywhere.
In 1953, the Korean War drew to a halt, and my mother and I were among the refugees who got taken back to Busan. Once again, my mother and I lived in a tiny room in a large shelter. My mother worked long hours for our very survival. Even though hostilities had ceased in the destructive Korean War, the
poverty associated with post-war living continued much longer.
In the early summer of 1956, my mother was selling some items at a street corner in the market area and I went there to visit her. At that moment, a woman who we did not know approached us with compassion and curiosity. My mother shared our life stories with the woman, as well as her concerns for my future, especially her ability to support my education. The lady kindly instructed my mother to deliver my photo to an office address and walked away.
My mother followed the lady’s instructions and, in December of the same year, I received a lovely Christmas card with a note from Gerry and Tessie Parkyn of Victoria, B.C., Canada, saying they would like to be my sponsors through the Save the Children Fund organization (SCF). My mother and I were overjoyed by their love and kindness. The Parkyns kept in touch with us regularly by mail, sending us letters, photos, small gifts and monthly funds.
The SCF’S policy was that the sponsorship of a child is terminated when he or she reaches the age of 16. The Parkyns were very disappointed to hear about this and didn’t want to let me go. They earnestly negotiated with the SCF’S administrator in Busan, and an exception was made for them to keep sponsoring me. They put me through university and I graduated with a B.A. degree. After that, I taught in a Busan middle school for two years.
One day, wonderful news came to me that the Parkyns were trying to arrange for an adult adoption to bring me to Canada. The arrangements were successful, and on April 28, 1970, I arrived at the Vancouver airport, where my adoptive parents and their daughters warmly greeted me. They gave me a welcome present of a silver teaspoon and a beautiful corsage, and took me to their lovely home in Victoria. The spectacular scenery of British Columbia, and around their home, overwhelmed me—i felt like I was in paradise.
The love of my adoptive parents made an indelible mark on me. My life bloomed fully as I gradually adjusted to Canadian life. I realized the many opportunities available to me in this great and peaceful country, Canada.
I met John Kim in Vancouver and married him on June 16, 1973. We are blessed with three lovely daughters and three adorable grandsons. My husband—a pastor—and I served as ministers in Canada for more than 20 years, and as missionaries in Japan for three years. We are now retired and living in Mississauga. I am very proud to be a Canadian and I give special thanks to my God for His miracles that brought me here.
Clockwise from top: Won-ok at a daughter's wedding (2016); with her mom, Ui-sook Lee; her adoptive parents, Gerry and Tessie Parkyn; Won-ok, age 10, in 1956.