There are very few countries left in the world that truly capture the concept of “kingdom”—where one person’s rule extends over every aspect of his subject’s lives. Especially in the Western world, kingdoms feel like a relic of a bygone era.
For the people of North Korea though, the concept is far too real. They have lived under the brutal totalitarian kingdom of the Kim Dynasty for nearly 70 years, and in that time the Kim family has stretched their power over every aspect of life they can touch. Currently, under the rule of Kim Jong Un, North Korea has attempted to squash all free speech, religion and even thought in ways reminiscent of the dystopian novel 1984. The Kim dynasty’s power is strong.
But there’s another Kingdom at work in North Korea, and it’s one the Kim family hasn’t been able to topple.
“When I was twelve, I accidentally found a Bible my parents had hidden in their closet. I don’t know why, but I started to feel inside the cabinet with my hand, pulled out a book and began to read.”
This is the story of Kim Sang-Hwa*. It’s the story of a young girl raised to think differently than the Kim regime would want. It’s the story of a search for freedom. Most importantly, it’s the story of another Kingdom that’s at work deep in North Korea.
Kim Sang-Hwa* in her own words
I come from a Christian family, although for a long time I wasn’t even aware my parents were believers. Like so many Christian families, our family was banished in the 1950s to a remote village. They continued to hide their faith from the outside world, but I remember waking up one night when I was six. Our house was very small, so we all slept in the same room. When I opened my eyes, I saw my father and mother under the blanket, and I could hear the soft noise of the radio. Later, I learned they were listening to a broadcast from a Christian radio station.
My discovery could cost me my life. I was afraid to touch the Bible, but I couldn’t just leave it there. I closed my eyes, picked up the book and put it back. I weighed my options. Should I tell my teacher? Should I visit the local security official? For fifteen days I couldn’t think about anything else. I knew it was my duty to report this illegal book. But it was my family which was involved. And I also had all these questions: ‘Who is this God? Or ‘what’?’
Finally, I had the guts to ask my father. He was very surprised and sat next to me. He asked me: ‘Do you see those old trees?’ I nodded. ‘Who made those?’ I said I didn’t know and he explained the story of creation to me, including how God had made Adam and Eve.
My mother taught me to memorize Bible verses and the Apostolic Creed and also explained the full Gospel to me. My grandfather showed me how to pray. ‘It is just talking to God. Nothing more, nothing less.’ He spoke a lot about Jesus’ second coming. He really longed for that.
To me, all those stories and ideas were so interesting. I also read the Bible for myself. But I realized it was dangerous. My father always emphasized not to share anything with anyone else. Then he would start to pray in whispers, almost inaudible. ‘Father, help the North Korean people to seek your Kingdom first’.
Sometimes my father met people in a secret location. Many children of believers came to that location too and learned the Bible. We prayed together. Among the people visiting the secret meetings were some non-believers too, even spies. When one of those visitors was dying, my father went to see him on his deathbed. He confessed: “I know everything about you, your family and your faith. I was a spy and ordered to watch you.”
“And?” my father asked.
“You are a good man. I never told anyone you were a Christian. Tell me how I can become a Christian too.”
In the final moments of his life, this man repented and entered the Kingdom of God. My father was able to lead him there.
After I got married, my husband and I tried to take care of homeless people. There was a homeless teenager who lived with us for a while. She stole all my clothes and disappeared. I was really annoyed by that but father told me that God would provide.
“Whatever,” I said.
But a couple of days later, I was contacted by an aunt from China. She said she had a bunch of clothes for me. My father was thrilled.
“See,” he said, “God had prepared these clothes for you even before your own clothes were stolen.”
Slowly though, my husband and I became more and more discontent with the North Korean system. Out of every three people, at least one of them was a spy. We always needed to do what we were told, and my father was pretty open about how bad our country really was. Soon, we were confronted with that unequal system. Because of our wealth—which was obtained through my father’s profession and our relatives in China—we were labeled as “followers of capitalism.” Afraid for our family’s safety, we left our two-year-old son with my parents and fled the country.
One night in the early 2000s, we crossed the border river. It wasn’t difficult to find shelter and work in China, since it was the farming season.
But life was hard. We suffered a lot. That first year in China was probably the hardest, but there were also good things. At some point, Chinese Christians took care of us and my husband also gave his life to Jesus. After a year, we were able to pay a broker to bring our son back from North Korea to us.
“I wish I could go back…”
Years later we made it to South Korea, which is where we now live; however, my dreams and hopes haven’t changed much since I left North Korea all those years ago. There is much more freedom here in the South, but I wish I could go back to North Korea and share the Gospel with the people there and have fellowship with the local believers. I love their faith. I’d be ready to die for the Gospel. I think that if I didn’t have a family here in South Korea, I would have returned already and help the people in need.
My father always told me to seek the Kingdom first. That will always be his prayer for his country and all believers. This is what I pray in the morning when I kneel at the map of North Korea on the floor of my house and pray for the brothers and sisters. But sometimes I’m discouraged. I feel the same as many believers around the world where it seems like nothing is changing in North Korea.
When I pray, I often ask God: “What’s the point? Why do you want me to keep on praying for North Korea?” But then God reminds me: “You know North Korea better than anyone else. You know the people and their suffering. If you won’t pray, who will? Rely on Me. Believe in Me.”
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Revelation 21:3-5 (NKJV)
*Representative name and photo used for security