The grandmother who risked everything to share Jesus in North Korea

September 30, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Stories of Persecution

Father, I stretch my hands to Thee, No other help I know/

If Thou withdraw Thyself from me, Ah! Wither shall I go?/

He shed His precious blood from sin to set me free/

With my heart repenting, I come before Thee.

“Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee”

They are the words to the praise song that Hee Jin’s grandmother softly sung to her behind locked doors. Every Sunday, this grandmother who loved Jesus would bring her wide-eyed young granddaughter into the tiny bedroom where the two kneeled, prayed and sang in hushed whispers so quiet they could barely hear themselves.

“My grandmother would hold services that were 30 to 40 minutes long,” remembers Hee Jin, now 31. “She started out with praise songs, and we would sing together. After praises, she would make a speech that I did not understand back then. I now think she was reciting the Apostle’s Creed. Afterward, she would pray for her family.”

As her grandmother sang and prayed, Hee Jin sang along, shutting her eyes during her prayers. “I would simply follow along when she said, “’In the name of Jesus, Amen.’” These worship “sessions” were the only times Hee Jin ever prayed or spoke about God in North Korea.

A risky lifeline

Though Hee Jin didn’t know it at the time, this weekly worship time was a lifeline for her grandmother who met Jesus in China through missionaries from South Korea. In China, she was arrested and repatriated to North Korea where she spent six months in prison. When she returned home, she introduced her granddaughter to the Good News she’d found.

“My grandmother seemed to be free of worries and stress when she sang and prayed,” Hee Jin recalls. “I found it surprising how we would sing songs that were banned in North Korea. The image of my grandmother singing praise songs was simply beautiful to me as a child.”

But Hee Jin was old enough to know that what they were doing was also deadly. She knew that if she accidentally told someone her grandmother followed Jesus, her entire family, herself included, would be wiped out. In North Korea, if someone is discovered to be a Christian, the whole family to the fourth generation can be eradicated.

At the time, Hee Jin never realized her grandmother’s illegal faith and these songs she sang as a child would one day mean so much to her as well. It was the first song she learned and some 20 years later, the same song was the first one she heard at the church she went to after escaping to South Korea.

“That song made me cry a lot when I first got there,” she says.

We asked Hee Jin to sing a few verses of this song that her grandmother taught her. In the emotional video below, she shares her voice and her heart.

Like many North Korean refugees, the memories of what they lived through (and knowing their people are still suffering today)—take their toll wherever they are. Memories of oppressive indoctrination and isolation, ceaseless hunger pangs, paralyzing fear of prison and  horrific scenes of the country’s catastrophic famine in the ’90s. Hee Jin remembers these, and much more.

“I did not think I carried that much pain inside of me,” Hee Jin says. “God is melting my ice-cold heart through songs like these.”

Even after escaping to a better life in South Korea, Hee Jin has remained dependent on God. She attributes that faithfulness to her grandmother and seeing the power of prayer modeled in her life. Behind that closed door through the hushed tones of two prayerful voices, God was doing more than Hee Jin knew. And He’s working in the same ways today in the lives of North Korean Christians.

“Prayer has power,” Hee Jin says in hindsight. “My grandmother prayed so many times amidst persecution, praising God with a cheerful heart. I remember her always being filled with joy.

“She never lost hope during hardship. God listened to her prayers, even though she must have prayed so quietly. I [sense] a path that allows me to continue living. I want to know God more and why my grandmother prayed so much when my uncles opposed [her prayers] so heavily.

“That I can pray now is an answer to my grandmother’s prayers.”

Strengthen North Korean Christians

Through our secret networks in China, Open Doors helps North Korean Christians—believers like Hee Jin’s grandmother—strengthen their faith by delivering Bibles and Christian materials to Chinese safe houses, providing biblical training and shelter at the safe houses, offering Bible study and pastoral care to trafficked North Korean women in China and by broadcasting Bible programs via radio.

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