Today, Holy Saturday, we are having the memorial service for our former student named Mrs. Choi. She was born February 10th, 1973. Her hometown was Chungjin, in North Hamgyeong Province. She was sold in China and lived near Harbin for some years, giving birth to a son. She came to Korea on April 21, 2017, as part of the 233rd class at the Hanawon Refugee Resettlement Center. She enrolled in our UT school October 14th, 2017. She lived in Daegu but came by train on Friday nights and stayed sometimes with some of our UU students and sometimes with her Hanawon friends in order to be here for class Saturday morning.
Why do we do this memorial service for Mrs. Choi today? Is it because she was such a good student? No. In truth, she was not a great student or a bad student. Is it because she followed Christ so well? No. In truth, there were many things about Christ that she did not know or understand. Is it because she was such a good person? No. Like all of us, she had many struggles. She sometimes had conflicts with her friends. She put all her efforts into bringing her son to South Korea. In order to earn the money to do that, she sometimes did wrong things. She ended up in trouble that resulted in her death earlier this month. She died within a month after she was able to bring her son to South Korea. Her body was cremated and placed at the Yongin Crematorium. This is a facility operated by the government for the disposal of the bodies of those who have no one. No newspaper reported her death. No one has called for a fuller accounting of how she died. None of her friends or family members or colleagues from Hanawon 233 have come today to participate in this memorial service.
But it is not complete to say that Mrs. Choi was born February 10th, 1973. Instead, we must say that on February 10th, 1973, the Lord Jesus Christ breathed life into a newborn baby whom he had formed in her mother’s womb, and he numbered every hair on her head.
It is not complete to say that her hometown was Chungjin, in North Hamgyeong Province. Instead, we must say that God in his infinite wisdom, in order to accomplish his perfect purposes in the universe and in her life, and in each of our lives, placed her in Chungjin, in North Hamgyeong Province at that particular day and time and moment in history.
It is not complete to say that she was sold in China and lived near Harbin for some years, giving birth to a son. Instead, we must say that God permitted her to be sold into slavery, for even though his ways are not our ways, he works all things together for our good, even when everything in our circumstances look bad. It was in that place that she came to know the Lord Jesus and even to receive Dr. Foley and other members of our team into her home. The Lord Jesus says that whoever opens their home to a servant of the Lord and welcomes them into their home, that person is actually receiving him, and he will not forget that. Not ever.
It is not complete to say that she came to Korea on April 21, 2017, as part of the 233rd class at Hanawon. We must say that God arranged for her to come, and to be a part of the 233rd class, not the 232nd class or the 234th class, for reasons that only he knows. And she came with her Bible and was able to contact us because of it, which was part of God’s gracious provision for her, too.
It is not complete to say that she enrolled in our UT school October 14th, 2017. We must say that Christ himself sent her to us, with specific instructions for us to treat her as his daughter, and to extend to her the same love and care that we would extend to him.
And it is not complete to say that in the process of working to bring her son to Korea she made bad choices and did bad things and ended up in trouble that resulted in her death earlier this month. And it is not complete to say that no newspaper reported her story. And it is not complete to say that her friends have left her. And it is not complete to say that the government had to cremate her body because she had no one. We must say that when every other hand gave way—her family, her friends, North Korea, South Korea, the church, us—Christ never let go of Mrs. Choi. He did not turn his back on her. He did not condemn her. On Holy Saturday he descended to the very depths of death in order to make sure that no one who came to him would ever be lost. His grip is firm. “I do not lose even one that was put in my hand.”
How little we know the character of Christ! How little credit we give him for the perfect, unfailing love he shows toward us! How much we focus on our fears, our sins, our own efforts, our own desires, our own goals, our own ways of thinking! How seldom we realize that he is the one who breathed life into us, the one who ordered our steps, the one who watches over every detail of every day to ensure that his perfect will towards us will be accomplished!
What does Christ want from us? How should we respond to his perfect love?
The answer is found in today’s Holy Saturday scripture reading, though if you do not read carefully you will miss it. It is in Matthew 27:61. Matthew writes:
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
What does Christ want from us? To sit and wait for him. Especially when he seems absent and circumstances are urgent. Especially when we fall into sin. Especially when we are afraid. Especially when we are lost. Especially when everyone else leaves us. Especially when our families need us and are in trouble, and we feel like we must act and do something and be their savior… Stop and sit. Wait on him. Show your respect and trust in the Lord of glory. Recognize that he, not you, not the Korean government, not money, not the church, is your savior. Put your faith and trust not in yourself or in your family or in your friends or in your church or in any earthly thing. Put all your faith and trust in the one who descended farther into death and sin than you ever have, or will, or could. He did that not just so that he could forgive your sins. He did that so that you would never need be separated from him.
It is not complete to say that Mrs. Choi’s life has ended. We must say that Mrs. Choi’s life is just now beginning, and will stretch on forever in perfect glory in the presence of God. We must say that Mrs. Choi was always directly and personally under Jesus’ care, but now she sees him face to face, and knows him as he has always known her. We must say that Jesus has drawn her death up into his own, that his eternal life is now hers as well.
Death will end. Life cannot.
Because of Christ, because of Holy Saturday, death will always end in resurrection. For those who reach out to Jesus, they can be certain that he has them in his grip, he will not them go, he will never leave them, he has prepared a place for them, he will take them there in his perfect timing.
And now, at last, Mrs. Choi is truly home.
As we say in Orthodoxy, “Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
Christ is Risen!
Make sure to check out our North Korean ministries page for more information on our North Korean ministries:
Please also check out the book These are the Generations, if you haven’t already, to gain more understanding about how Mrs. Choi, and our, North Korean brothers and sisters seek to live in the victory of Christ’s resurrection even in the face of deadly persecution.
In all our frailties and shortcomings, in our lack of understanding, in our shortsightedness and sin, this is encouraging. Christ is our savior in all things, to Him be the glory.
Yes! That is precisely what we wanted to focus on.
Death is very serious. But whether in life or death, Christ is our true bread, true drink, true life, and eternal salvation.
I believe I called and left a message for you the other day to check in with you guys!
Please call when you get a chance.
“It is not complete…” shows us how short-sighted we are as humans, and sinners. Nicely said, Doctor Foley. Hope all is well.
Thank you for your comment!
Yes, it really changes our perspective to do this memorial service not as a celebration of life, but as a worship service in which we celebrate Christ and His faithfulness to Mrs. Choi.
Dear 린다 자매님,
We are glad you were impacted by this!