I LIKE READING "THE BIG THREE" NEWSMAGAZINES because I know that when they say good things about Christianity, they don't necessarily mean to; that makes their stories all the more compelling. (The art of being a Christian is, among other things, the art of reading between the lines.)
A July 23, 2003, U.S. News & World Report story on North Korea told of a woman named Lee Soon Ok who had begun as a true believer in President Kim Il Sung's Communism, until a minor infraction landed her in prison camp No.1 at Gaechun. But what the powers of Pyongyang meant for evil God meant for good, and Ms. Lee "converted to Christianity, having marveled at jailed Christians who refused to renounce their faith in the face of torture and execution."
Since it strikes me that the bigger story here is the story within the story, I would like to fill in the blanks, if I may, with events I first learned from my late Korean husband.
Korea-a "shrimp between two whales" (China and Japan)-wanted only to be left alone. But the last thing Jesus said before ascending was, "Go and make disciples of all nations," so King Chongjo's anti-Christian decree (1785) and the Yi Dynasty's closed-door policy (1863) notwithstanding, the "Hermit Kingdom" was not to be a hermit forever.
European commercial vessels had their own reasons for wanting to pry open Korea's isolationism, but there always seemed to be some timely shipwreck, and some Dutch Reformed sailor on board (Sparrow Hawk, 1628) or some German missionary serving as interpreter for the British (Lord Amherst, 1832). The latter ship was sent packing, but not before Karl Gutzlaff had handed out tracts and a Chinese translation of the Bible. Meanwhile, a Korean scholar named Yi Sung Hun had converted to Catholicism in 1784 while studying in Beijing, and the number of Catholics had grown to about 23,000 in the early 1800s, despite persecution.
In 1866 the General Sherman, an American trading schooner leased by the British and bent on Oriental treasure, barged into the Taedong River uninvited. Throwing gospel tracts off the back of the boat was a passenger named Robert J. Thomas. This expedition also ended badly, with a bloody two-week standoff ending as the natives launched a scow loaded with burning pine branches toward the doomed vessel. Thomas was among those jumping overboard, but he jumped with an armful of Scripture and crying out "Jesus! Jesus!" He had just enough time to offer a Korean man a Bible before his head was chopped off.
The decapitator took the Bible home and used the pages for wallpaper; he later became a Christian, as did several who stayed in his guest room. In several years his nephew would graduate from Union Christian College in Pyongyang and serve on a committee to revise the Korean Bible. But another of the machete-wielding natives greeting Thomas and company was a peasant named Kim Ung U. He later had a son named Kim Bo Hyon, who later had a son named Kim Hyong Jik, who later had a son named Kim Il Sung-which brings our story back to the present, and raises all kinds of wild ideas in my head about the ageless antagonism throughout history of the seed of the serpent against the Seed of Eve.
I suspect Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News will not relate Ms. Lee Soon Ok's story to the opening of the fifth seal in Revelation 6, but we should: "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been" (Revelation 6:9-11).
With the tortures and deaths of Ms. Lee's prison mates, the number above comes closer to completion. Let us not read of these men and women without stopping here in reverence and gratitude, for their deaths are part of the great drama that will conclude with the return of Christ and His banners of glory displayed above the nations.
"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).