Hea-Woo’s life has been full of trauma. In 1997, in the midst of a great famine in North Korea, Hea-Woo’s daughter in her mid-twenties starved to death in her own home. Hae-Woo’s husband escaped to China. He found God…but sadly he was caught by the secret police and six months later died in a North Korean prison camp. Hea-Woo said, “I was shocked to hear that my husband had become a Christian but instinctively I knew he had found the truth.”
It wasn’t too long after this that Hea-Woo herself escaped to China and became a Christian through a series of events similar to those that had influenced her husband’s journey to faith. She was then caught by the secret police, repatriated to North Korea and placed in a prison camp. She shares about the horrors of life in these prisons: death so rampant that bodies would lay on the ground for three or four days without being cleaned up; mental and physical abuse that would make you sick in the pit of your stomach. Every day was torture for Christians.
In one of the darkest places on earth, Hea-Woo chose to do something so radical, and so dangerous, but so Christ-like. In this prison, God gave her a heart to tell her fellow prisoners about Jesus. And so, right there in the middle of a North Korean labor camp, a secret fellowship church began.
In her words: “The Bible verses that I’d recall from memory gave the others hope. They also saw the Spirit at work in me. I stood out among the other prisoners because I helped them. Sometimes I shared my rice with the sick. Occasionally I washed their clothes, too.
“God used me to lead five people to faith. I tried to teach them the little I knew about Jesus. I didn’t have access to a Bible in the camp. But on Sundays and at Christmas, we met together out of the view of the guards. Usually, that was in the toilet. There we held a short service. I taught them the Bible verses and songs that I knew. We sang almost inaudibly so that no one would hear us.”
It’s believers like Hea-Woo who suffer persecution for their faith that brings much-needed perspective on real discipleship. On what it means to obediently, selflessly and courageously follow Jesus.
Hea-Woo planted a church in a place so putrid that no one dared go near them…in a prison, where if caught, she would be tortured and killed without exception.
We serve Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, who calls us to a radical lifestyle.
And our response should be to uncompromisingly, unashamedly and passionately follow Him whatever the cost.