Monday, August 17, 2015

Hope for North Korea

Night time photos shot from space over North Korea reveal a country in total darkness when compared to the night time lights of China or South Korea. Some new memoirs are appearing that shed some light on life in the darkness that is North Korea. Most Westerners know little about life there. Joseph Kim's memoir, Under the Same Sky, is a must read for a number of reasons. Kim, who is only in his late 20's now, begins his story when he is an elementary student. Like many kids he enjoyed playing outside with friends and the love of his parents who desired the best for him. But, the best in NK is very different from the least in many other places. Kim knew nothing about life outside NK. When Kim Il Sung died what economy that NK had died, too. The years of the Great Famine began. Millions died of starvation while others scavenged for something to eat every day. People searched the mountains for food, sold what they could, bargained, stole or tried to sneak into China to trade goods. If they were caught they went to prison; gangs of pre-teens were rounded up and sent to brutal youth detention centers. Young girls were sold as sex slaves. Kim's story reveals a place that deserves to be in one of Dante's circles of hell. Yet, Kim and his fellow North Koreans knew no different and loved their homeland. They hoped for better days even while their friends and families died. After his father died, his mother was in prison and his sister sold over the border in China, Kim chose to try to cross the border himself. One of his ex-con friends told him to look for a church. What is a church, he asked. It is a place that talks about God. Who is God, he asked. North Korea is an atheist country and it has pretty much rid it's life of any traces of God. In fact, NK is what life looks like when people have done that. Or, when the state has done that. The people are quite open to hearing about Christianity. When Kim crosses the border he asks an old man how he can find a church. Look for a cross, the man said. Kim knew what a cross was it meant a hospital in NK. How do I find one, Kim asked the man. Look up, the man said. Kim did and he found a church. Not every church helped him but one did and through a Christian grandmother and LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) he was helped to find a new life in America. It's not a fairy tale story. Kim still has plenty of challenges; some days he is memorizing the Bible and other days spiraling into another round of depression. He has been out of NK for nine years and here with the help of author Stephan Talty tells his story. He says he told his story so that others would have a more compassionate perspective of the North Korean people. "My hope in telling my story, our story, is that the lives of the North Korean people would not be forgotten. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to so many important people in my life who have helped me to make it this far and have been a part of shaping who I am today.

We need these stories. So we don't forget. Some days Kim is consumed by survivor's guilt but he has  hope that things can get better in his home country for his people. And that he will be reunited with  his sister, Bong Sook,  who he dedicated this book to. Hope is what makes us live, he says.

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