The high cost of religious persecution
October 29, 2010
After Sook (not her real name), a young woman from North Korea, gave her testimony during the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town many were moved to tears. They had just witnessed — in their midst — the tragic face of suffering.
Born in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, this petite 18-year-old is the daughter of a former high-ranking government leader — an assistant of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il
In 1998, when Sook was six, her father suffered severe political persecution, and the family was forced to flee to China. It was there that her parents came to know the amazing grace and love of God. After only a few months, her mother, pregnant with her second child, died of leukemia.
“It was in the midst of this family tragedy that my father joined a Bible study led by missionaries from South Korea and America, and after a time his strong desire was to become a missionary to North Korea,” she said.
In 2001 her father was reported and arrested by the Chinese police, then sent back to North Korea, where he was sentenced to prison. Desperately crying out to God during this time, his three-year incarceration served only to strengthen his faith. After his release he returned to China, and Sook was reunited briefly with her father.
“Not long after that, he chose to return to North Korea — instead of enjoying a life of religious freedom in South Korea — to share Christ’s message of life and hope among the hopeless people of his homeland.”
In 2006 her father’s work was discovered by the North Korean government, and once again he was imprisoned. Sook has not heard from him again; in all probability, he has been publicly executed on charges of treason and espionage. This is often the fate of confessing Christians in North Korea, according to reports.
Left in China, Sook was adopted for a while by the family of a young pastor, and their love, care, compassion and protection made a deep impression on her. When they left for America, she was given the opportunity to go to South Korea.
While staying at the Korean Consulate in Beijing, waiting to go to South Korea, the young girl’s life was dramatically and irrevocably changed when Jesus came to her in a dream.
“He had tears in his eyes,” she recalled. “He walked towards me and asked, ‘Sook, how much longer are you going to keep me waiting? Walk with me. Yes, you have lost your earthly father, but I am your heavenly Father and whatever has happened to you was because I love you.’”
Praying to God for the very first time, she gave him her heart, soul, mind and strength, asking that she would be used in concert with his will. A deep love for the lost people of North Korea and the need to bring the love of Jesus to them has subsequently become her life’s purpose.
“I look back over my short life, and I see God’s hand everywhere. Six years in North Korea, eleven in China and now in South Korea. Everything I suffered: all the sadness and grief, all that I have experienced and learned, I want to give it all to God and use my life for his kingdom. In this way I also hope to bring honor to my father.”
Still a student, this young and vibrant follower of Christ describes her intention to enter university to study political science and diplomacy, and then to work for the rights of the voiceless in North Korea.
“Brothers and sisters here in this place, I humbly ask you to pray that the same light of God’s grace and mercy that reached my father and my mother, and now me, will one day soon dawn upon the people of North Korea, my people.”
As one body, the huge throng of participants in Cape Town arose in silence, after which a burst of applause in response to God's glory reverberated from the walls of the vast auditorium of the International Convention Centre.
Fofo Lerefolo is an intern from South Africa in the WCC program on unity, mission, evangelism and spirituality.