Hye first learned about Kim Il-Sung at school… and about God at home. From her earliest moments, she experienced the daily tension between faith in God and fear of a repressive government. Now living in South Korea, she tells us the story of her journey.
Hye’s family has a long Christian heritage; her parents, grandparents and even great-grandfather were Christians. “During the Japanese occupation my grandmother was a member of a Baptist church, which was closed down after Kim Il-Sung came into power. However, she secretly kept meeting with other Christians. Everybody had to work for ten days, after which they had one day off. The Christians tried to arrange to work on their days off so that they could gather for Sunday services. They came on Saturday night and then stayed overnight. There were usually 5 or 6 people, but no more than ten.”
Because her father’s job required him to meet a lot of people, visitors were not suspicious. “The people would gather in a small room in our home,” Hye relates. “They were almost silent. Children like me had to go outside and play. We also had to watch out for other people. As soon as someone came near to our house I ran home to warn my grandmother. She was the leader of the group and also the preacher.”
Hye’s grandmother owned a very old Chinese Bible, and her father had a Korean Bible. “They read from the Bible of course, and sang songs too, but there was almost no sound coming from their mouths. The other Christians didn’t own a Bible. They shared books which my grandmother had written by hand.”
“My grandmother hid her Bible in a basket where she placed her socks and other things. She would always read her Bible with magnifying glasses and hide it immediately if she heard someone coming to the house.”
It was her grandmother who taught Hye the most about the Bible. “She used to read Bible verses for us when we came back from school. She prayed and sang hymn songs for us. I told my mom and sister that I don’t really remember the things that my grandmother had told me because I was so young at that time, but they helped me remember few things.”
“She also explained that we must be ready for Jesus’ coming. ‘I hope that Jesus will take you folks amongst all people. So you must believe in Jesus. You must not believe in Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung because all the things in this world are useless. God created the world.’ Then she would point out the window to the sky and said, ‘We have to go there.’ She was always sobbing whenever she told us about this.”
Hye’s world changed forever in 1994, during the time that the country was in mourning for the death of “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung. While she was at school, “People from the National Security Agency raided our house during a worship meeting. My father was arrested and taken away. When I came home, I expected my father to open the door… He wasn’t there. I looked for him in his room, but he wasn’t there. My family told me he was taken away.”
Still deeply devastated by the memories of that time, she can only relate that, “The house was chaos.” Only two weeks later, her grandmother passed away. Before she died, she told Hye and the other family members not to worry. “We all have to die. We don’t belong to this world, we belong to heaven.” Grandmother instructed Hye’s mother to get her Bible. “We knew they were coming for us. We had to burn it. My grandmother said it was okay as long as we stayed true to our faith in God. But when the flames devoured the pages, my grandmother wept intensely.”
When Hye’s aunt came for the funeral, she told Hye’s mother, “Sister, I am ready. I am ready to answer all the questions of the secret police when I go back to my home town. Your journey will be extremely tough. Please make sure that you keep your faith. No matter what happens.”
The NSA officials came to her house soon after she returned home. “Your brother has been arrested! Do you believe in God too? If you deny, we will not take you away.” Hye’s aunt would not renounce her faith and was taken away. “We haven’t heard from her since.”
Hye’s family was also taken to a local department of the NSA. They did what grandmother had told them to do. “We told them we had no clue about my father reading the Bible, that we thought that book was for his work.”
That was when the NSA officials started to play a tape. “They had broken into our house and placed a bug in our old clock.” Hye heard a recent conversation she had with her father in which he asked her, “Did you cry too when you had to lay flowers at the statue of our deceased leader?” Hye replied, “No, why should I?”
It was impossible to deny their knowledge of her father’s faith any longer. But her family was fortunate; for some reason, the family was deported to a remote area, rather than a political labor camp. “We thought they sent us to this place because they couldn’t kill us. However, we were grateful that God had saved our lives. Life wasn’t easy of course. Many people died of starvation in our area. However, we were somewhat better off than the others because we lived close to the mountains, where we could find plants and trees. God fed us this way. We maintained our faith but lost all contact with other believers. We couldn’t look for anyone back then.”
Father, thank You that You have preserved Hye’s faith and even her life. We pray for the many Christians who remain in North Korea, many suffering unspeakable horrors. Comfort them in their affliction and give them a clear vision of Your glory in heaven, where You will wipe away every tear and there will be no more sorrow. In the name of Jesus, our hope of glory, Amen.