Preserving the Faith...Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Sun Ok Lee had been a privileged member of the Communist Party with a high rank. She had devoted her life to the Party, loved her country and loved her Party. After refusing to give an officer more fabric than was his share, he had her arrested and imprisoned on false charges for revenge. She was tortured, beaten and after a year of such treatment finally signed the confession, attended her mock trial and was sentenced to thirteen years at a labor camp. She had lost her citizenship in North Korea, been expelled from the Communist Party and lost her rights as a human being. In fact, as she entered the labor camp a lieutenant advised her,
You are not a human being anymore. If you want to survive here, you'd better give up the idea that you are human."
Thus she began her thirteen year sentence as something less than human...a tailless animal.

Each chapter unfolds a new horror. Each page is difficult to turn. The affront to humanity is appalling. For me, the most horrifying was the treatment of pregnant mothers. Kim Il Sung had ordered that all anti-Communists be eliminated within three generations. So pregnant prisoners were injected with poison to force an abortion. The mothers then delivered their stillborn babies on a cold cement floor. They were beaten if they moaned or cried out. But sometimes, the babies were not dead. Sometimes they survived. And the prisoners were told,
Kill it! These criminals don't have any right to have babies. What are you doing? Kill it right now!
And the prisoners snapped the necks of the tiny babies, throwing their bodies in a basket. The mothers looked on helplessly. If they screamed, they were beaten. If they protested, they were sent to solitary confinement where prisoners often became paralyzed or died from the harsh treatment to already weakened bodies. They, and the life they bore, were worth less than dogs.

There are occasional glimmers of hope. In the prisoners with downcast eyes, never looking up, never speaking. And unlike the other prisoners, never blaming their shortcomings on other prisoners. In fact, they often bore the blame for mistakes they did not make and showed a willingness to die for one another that baffled Ms. Lee. They were imprisoned for their superstitions, and Ms. Lee could not understand who they saw in the empty heaven. Or why anyone would prefer such torture to denying their Lord. They received the worst treatment of all, including being trampled to death by other prisoners and having molten iron poured over their bodies. Their faith brought a question into Lee's heart,
What did they see, and what am I missing?
After her release from prison and her flight to South Korea, she would find out. In December 1995, she arrived in South Korea with her adult son and was protected by the South Korean government. One day, an inspector came.
Today I would normally be in church, but I was assigned to talk to you. If you want to adjust quickly to living in South Korea by forgetting all your suffering, you should read this book.
And he gave her a bible. And began to sing Amazing Grace.

Not knowing how, Ms. Lee sang along. She did not know how she knew the tune and she was drawn to this book. Slowly, she began to remember things from when she was very young. When her mother and her friends closed the door to embroider and sing. They stayed all night, singing about going to heaven. She remembered these times and slowly began to realize her mother and grandmother had been Christian. They had hidden this from the world and even from her. She writes,
In North Korea, Christian parents do not tell their children about God because the Communists try to get children to report Christian parents to the Party. When the children go to school, the teachers ask them if their parents ever secretly read out of a black book. The children are promised honor if they report their parents. But when the children tell on their parents, the parents are taken away. Therefore, parents are very careful about what they tell their children.
But our God is a powerful God. More powerful than the North Korean government and more powerful than the hell of its prison camps. I cannot imagine the conflict Ms. Lee's mother and grandmother must have felt. But they did what they felt they could and God preserved her. And drew on those long-forgotten hymns to draw her to him.

You can read more of Soon Ok Lee's story here, from an interview with MSNBC.

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