A 6-year-old boy who looks like he's 3 cuddles up in a foreigner's lap. He says he wants to be a minister when he grows up. He was left in a church by his uncle about 18 months earlier, so malnourished he could barely walk. A girl, now 13, was found begging in the market. Two boys who are 10 and 11 but look 6 or 7 were told by their parents that they'd return for them.

The woman tries to pass the younger children off as her own. She has enrolled them in school, and they have rapidly picked up Chinese. Nevertheless, she's not sure how long she can continue the ruse because Chinese couples are supposed to have only one child.

At another apartment lives an 11-year-old girl who hasn't been outside the building in three years. Chun fears that nosy neighbors would realize she's not in school and doesn't speak Chinese. She came across the river with her mother. An elder sister disappeared in the train station when they arrived.

"I'm going to get you to South Korea," Chun tells the girl as she draws in a notepad he's given her. "I know you'll be a good student." He asks the girl's mother to hold out for a little while longer.

After making his rounds, Chun hastily settles on a list of five, and makes calls on his cell phone to the safe houses where they are staying. At the last minute, he decides to add a young couple, bringing the total to seven.

The Seven Chosen

Late on a Monday afternoon, the group assembles in the apartment of a missionary-businessman in Yanji.

There is Chun's trophy, the 32-year-old woman who claims to have headed a small unit in a North Korean nuclear missile plant. Tiny, with glasses and eyebrows that look as though they were tattooed on, she was an elite cadre in the North Korean Communist party, went to college, learned how to use guns and grenades, and every year reported for reserve duty. Or so she says.

She grew disillusioned when her sister couldn't get treatment for tuberculosis and malnutrition. She crossed the river to China, where a church helped her get medicine for her sister. But North Korean authorities caught her bringing it back. Police questions about church and karaoke -- "enjoying life," as she puts it -- made her start thinking about how North Korea controls its people.

"You can't laugh when you want to laugh or cry when you want to cry," she says, dabbing at tears. "I could never think of the meaning of life, or religion, because I always had to think of the party."

She picks at a callus on her hand, developed in 2 1/2 years of farm labor in China. Her saving grace is that she's learned to speak Chinese reasonably well, which will help on this journey.

Also chosen is a small 35-year-old man with dark curly hair, who is clad in a black jacket. He left North Korea three years ago after his older brother and nephew died of hunger. He worked on a Chinese farm, was captured and spent 14 months in a North Korean labor camp, escaped to China again and has lived for a year in a safe house.

"I couldn't deny God, and so I was treated like a political criminal in North Korea," he says. "I want to live for God. I want freedom."

The muscular build of another 39-year-old defector attests to his 10 years in the North Korean army, where he says he was on a special forces team along the South Korean border.

With his family starving, he headed to China and worked on a farm for two years. But when he got home, he found that his wife and daughter also had fled. He returned to China to try to find them but was caught and sent back to North Korea. He escaped by breaking a window on the train back to his hometown: His forearms still bear the scars.

He says he beat up three policemen when he escaped, so he is not afraid of the authorities. But he is wary of the others in the group, and he asks a reporter about his prospects in South Korea. "Are North Korean refugees doing well in South Korea?" he asks. "Can people have the jobs they want to have? I can do any kind of work."

A 24-year-old woman with long brown hair was lured to China by the promises of an illicit job broker. Instead, he sold her for $400 as a bride to an ailing Chinese farmer, who took her to his remote village to work on the farm. After she gave birth to the son the family wanted, they began to abuse her.

An acquaintance in the village helped her run away, urging her to leave her 2-year-old behind. "Be strong, be cold," the acquaintance said. In Yanji, she met an accomplice of Chun's, who pressed Chun to take her along.

She admits that religion baffles her.

"I cannot believe 100% in God," she says. Nevertheless, she's concluded that South Korea and America are more prosperous than North Korea because they are religious. "I want to see with my own eyes what God has done to help the South Korean people," she says. She seems almost giddy.