In a few weeks I’ll be starting my last year of doctoral study at Case Western Reserve University. I’m due to graduate in May 2015, Lord permitting, but I’m even more excited to begin the education that comes after that.
That’s because in June 2015 I’ll finally be putting in my eighteen months of hardcore language learning to achieve full fluency in Korean. The reason why I’m doing this, however, will probably surprise you.
I’m doing this because I feel called to write a book about a man named Cho Man-Sik, the true “Dear Leader” of North Korea.
Information about Mr. Cho is largely lost to history, however. Neither North or South Korea had much use for him, as he ultimately decided to answer a question no one was (or still is) asking:
What’s more important than Korean independence? (Or, contemporized for today: What’s more important than Korean unification?)
Mr. Cho was ostensibly an independence activist who began his work before there was a North or a South Korea. At that time, there was only one Korea, occupied by Japan. And in that one Korea Mr. Cho was a political leader, educator and nationalist.
Mainly, however, he was a passionate Christian (so much so that it proved to be his earthly undoing—keep reading). He is known as the Gandhi of Korea for his commitment to nonviolence, which arose from his deep faith and trust in God.
He established the Christian party and after Korea’s liberation from Japan, Russia realized he was so popular that it would have been virtually impossible not to have him lead the government of the five provinces that would soon constitute North Korea.
The problem was that Mr. Cho refused to support the proposed five-year UN trusteeship of a divided Korea. For this he was held in custody and died in 1950, though the circumstances of his death are largely unknown.
After Kim Il Sung became the leader of North Korea, NK people were taught (and still are taught) that Mr. Cho was a dangerous reactionary who tried to topple him.
Last month we took our Underground University and Underground Technology students to the very-small-but-I’m-at-least-glad-there-is-one Cho Man Sik Museum in South Korea. There were not many materials and pictures of Mr. Cho because he died in North Korea. It was quite modest compared to his significance.
(Note to self: Undertake building of larger Cho Man Sik Museum shortly after completion of Cho Man Sik book shortly after completion of language study.)
It took our students about ten minutes to look around and read everything in the museum about Mr. Cho. But talk about an impactful ten minutes!
Going into the visit our students had uniformly bad thoughts and images of Mr. Cho. They recalled a movie they had seen in North Korea about him. In the movie Mr. Cho was described as a religious leader who tried to trample Kim Il Sung to usurp the leadership of North Korea.
Even with the limited materials in the museum the students quickly realized that they had been vastly misled about Mr. Cho. They came to know Mr. Cho was a great man who sacrificed his life for his people as he trusted and followed the way of Christ.
Before Mr. Cho believed in Jesus he was a fighter and drunkard; however after he came to know God he was totally transformed, avoiding sinful places and entertainments. He chose the difficult way of the cross. He did not condemn others (not even Kim Il Sung, interestingly) but instead obeyed what God asked him to do.
Students told us that they came to know how precious a martyr Mr. Cho is. They felt what they described as “the greatest love of God toward North Korea.”
One Underground Technology student shared that she was touched to learn that Mr. Cho was given the opportunity to escape his arrest and flee North Korea for Seoul; however, he refused to leave because of the many NK people still in Pyongyang who were not permitted to flee. He wanted to stay and die with his people.
Another student confessed that she realized how she selfish she is in comparison to Mr. Cho. She did not want to mix with NK defectors and have fellowship with them after coming to South Korea. She admitted that she never thought about North Korea after she came to SK. Through learning about Mr. Cho’s life, she could see how his sacrifice and love influenced many NK people with the love of God. She challenged herself and her classmates to be like that.
Which is why I am excited to finish my doctorate, but even more excited to learn enough Korean to research and write a book about the true “Dear Leader” of North Korea—Korea’s own Gandhi, Cho Man-Sik.