When Park Sung Il set foot in New Zealand last week, he felt like his prayers had been answered.
Park, who defected from North Korea about 10 years ago when he was 23, is one of nine escapees from the now Kim Jong Un-led regime who arrived in Auckland last week.
The group is part of a Christian mission led by a South Korean pastor Kwang Choi, here to share their stories at nine Auckland churches.
North Korean defectors started coming to Auckland last year, the Herald has been told, and at least five are still here, living in a Christian commune in South Auckland.
They are being taught English, Bible study and given hands-on experience on integrating into Western society.
A Christian group is planning to set up a school in Auckland for North Korean defectors, and is seeking funding for the project.
Park, 33, a former North Korean labourer, remembers clearly the hazardous journey he had to make to escape the North.
"It was a freezing Korean winter's evening in March, and I had to cross frozen Amrok River to get to China," he said.
"I got injured and nearly died when a sharp sheet of floating ice floated towards me and pierced my body."
In China, Park received help from Christian organisations to get to Thailand and then on to South Korea.
An historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Moon Jae In last Friday has brought the Peninsula closer than it has been in decades. But Park, who still has family back in the North, is sceptical about unification.
"Kim Jong Un has told many lies and I have my doubts that he can be trusted this time," he said.
"Although the two leaders have shaken hands and talked face to face, nothing has changed for our people in North Korea."
Growing up, Park claimed, he was denied education because some of his other family members were known to be defectors. As a result, he found it difficult to find work or integrate in South Korea.
"When I first came to Seoul, because I was not educated, I could only find odd jobs in construction and delivery," Park said.
"As a result, I became really desperate and depressed and turned often to God."
Park said he was thrilled to be given this opportunity to come to New Zealand with Choi, a missionary who works with North Korean escapees.
He is unsure about what lies ahead for him, other than fronting several church meetings.
"I am leaving it to God's hands about what happens next and whether or not I stay on in New Zealand," he added.
Pastor Choi was engaged in a mission to North Koreans in China as a master of theology student at Chongshin University between 1998 to 2000. He has continued working with escapees since and had heard some harrowing tales of survival and of life in North.
One of the worst, Choi said, was from a man who said he camped at his father's grave for four days to prevent people from digging and eating his father's corpse.
"People were starving and struggling to survive, and one way to survive was to eat the bodies of the human dead," Choi said.
"I have also come across others who went crazy from starvation and saw their own children as food."
Choi said the nine North Korean refugees are in Auckland to share their stories and ask for prayers for those still suffering in their homeland.
Many fled the country alone, Choi said, leaving family and friends behind and remained at risk of being targeted or even killed.
Choi had deep suspicion of Pyongyang's true intentions for wanting closer relations with the South, and said many defectors felt the same.
Under the Panmunjom Declaration signed by Moon and Kim, the two leaders agreed to "promote balanced economic growth and co-prosperity".
It would start with the "connection and modernisation of the railway and roads" between the two countries.
David Cho, an Auckland-based Korean Christian organiser, said many of the defectors managed to escape the North with the help of evangelical organisations. Several started arriving in Auckland last year, and some had managed to obtain student visas.
Cho said five escapees, all women aged in their 20s and 30s, are being housed and educated in a secret location.
"We feel the New Zealand environment is very conducive to help these North Koreans and is better than Seoul," Cho said. "It is more peaceful here and there is less distractions to keep them from their studies and healing."
Cho said there were plans to set up a proper base and school in Auckland for North Korean defectors.