"In these children's minds, they were going to South Korea," said M.J.'s wife. "They never imagined after crossing the border to Laos they would be sent back to North Korea."
The children have since been used for propaganda purposes in Pyongyang, appearing on state-run television in June claiming they had been tricked into leaving North Korea and expressing thanks to leader Kim Jong Un for saving them and bringing them back.
"What I am concerned about is what is going to happen after the propaganda is gone and the rhetoric is over," said M.J. "If we don't pay attention, if we don't keep asking where these children are, then these children will be lost forever and we will never know what happened to them."
Laos was widely criticized for its actions by the U.N. and human rights groups but insists the youngsters were in their country illegally and that the missionaries were effectively human traffickers.
South Korea's foreign ministry told CNN it prioritizes the life and safety of North Korean defectors and is "inspecting the problems revealed from this incident and has improved and strengthened the overall support system."
But M.J. and his wife fear for the nine youngsters, who dreamed of a life without hunger and fear.