As I sat down to write this final post for our month-long focus on the Work of Mercy of ransoming captives, I just received the report that one of our Seoul USA extended family members–the mother of one of our Underground University graduates–was executed in a North Korean concentration camp after an extended period of captivity.
This is not Mr. Bae’s mother, about whom we wrote in our new book, These Are The Generations, but rather a different mother–one no less gifted at evangelism, and in many ways perhaps even more so. I have been asked by her son, our UU graduate, to write with him her story, too, so please pray with me about that. It is a fascinating story in so many ways, not least because it is those whom she evangelized who testified against her, sealing her sentence to a concentration camp. If those you evangelized testified against you, would there be enough of them to send you to a concentration camp?
In any case, days like these are filled with a lot of thoughts and deep reflection. If you ask me whether they are easy days, I will say of course not. If you ask me whether I am sad, I will say no. If you ask me whether her death invalidates what I have shared in this blog over the past month about ransoming captives, I will say no, and emphatically.
“But she is dead!” some will protest. “Your strategy did not work! For all your talk of serving the North Korean church and not paying ransoms but instead equipping the local church to be a ransom, her voice is silenced; her evangelism efforts have come to naught; the Kim family has triumphed once again; and there is one less Christian in North Korea today.”
Yes, accusatory thoughts like this plague me. And yes, I am writing this post at 2AM and thinking through everything we did, everything we could have done, everything that happened, everything that did not.
But they are accusations and nothing more. For there is a message, you see–a message from the incarcerated mother to her son. It is a private message, and until he chooses to divulge the contents I will not do so.
I will note only that it is a request from her that he leave her be to do her work. And it is a proclamation of the gospel, from mother to son.
And so in the deep Europe silence of night, I say:
Yes, this is still the way to ransom captives. We petition God for their release, and we proclaim the gospel to their captors. We do not regard captors as gods, and we do not regard God as powerless and in need of our intervention. Or our finances.
Paul and Silas sing wide the prison doors–and stay to proclaim the gospel to their captive captor. He, after all, is the one who is afraid, not they. They are praising God for being counted worthy to suffer for the name.
So at 2AM who is now free and who is captive as a result of the death of our Seoul USA extended family member? Who is victor and who is vanquished?
Our martyred sister’s son–our UU graduate–has wandered aimlessly since coming to South Korea. He attended UU, yes–graduated, even. But mostly he has wandered. He struggles every night to sleep, wrestling with impossibly feelings of deep guilt of fleeing from the North Korean police while his mother stood, did not run, was captured, interrogated. He stopped attending church in South Korea. Can’t pray. Can’t think much about God. Tried to raise money for his mother’s release despite our counsel. Ended up losing it all to a group that deceives North Korean defectors and takes their money. Got a blue collar job and worked seven days a week 12 hours a day in an effort to make the noise in his head stop. But none of it worked. He explained to me this summer:
From inside of my mind something comes out which gives me negative thoughts. Like, for example, whenever I start to do this work [this new job], I think, “Would it be good? Would it be really helpful to me?” This kind of bad thing comes out from my mind, and it makes me stop doing the work. And previous failed experiences come to my mind, and this makes me stop doing the new work. And so I just stop doing different kinds of work because of the failed experiences.
Mrs. Foley and I are here in Europe with Mr. Bae to share Mr. Bae’s story and that of his mother. Our former UU student was supposed to come here last year to share his story and that of his mother, but he failed to show up at the airport the day of the flight. Disappeared. We learned later that he had taken out a loan, gathered all of his savings, went to China–and promptly lost it all, in a failed effort to ransom his mother. Another North Korean defector, conned.
But our UU student whose mother was just martyred wrote to us tonight. His email is filled with clarity, purpose, resolve–and peace. He says he is ready to move forward. To tell his mother’s story. She sent a message telling him what to do now. He needed to hear this, because he is young, and there are some things best heard from one’s mother and spiritual forebear.
He wrote us that he wants to be a missionary now. To stop wandering. To train for real this time. To lay down his life as his mother has done and asked him to do. Without bitterness, sadness, or regret. Without hopelessness.
Our sister petitioned God from a North Korean concentration camp, to set her son free from his South Korean captivity.
Tonight a new voice has been raised up for North Korea.
One more captive has been ransomed. And two more prisoners have been freed.