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Beating the system

"Beating the system" Continued...

Issue: "Inside Election 2012," Oct. 20, 2012

When Suh woke up, he was drenched in sweat. No longer able to fall back asleep, he reached for his Bible again and read until dawn. He professed faith in Christ soon after. During those weeks, living in hiding in rural China, he began to grow as a new Christian.

About three months later, someone in the village reported Suh. A truck loaded with Chinese officers screeched in front of the church. As his church friends screamed protests, Suh let himself be led away to the truck, staring into space with an almost peaceful emotion that he still can’t explain. The Chinese sent him and his son back to North Korea.

The next few months in prison camp seemed endless. Suh was delirious most of the time. Guards forced inmates onto their knees, refusing them sleep, food, or access to bathrooms: “I felt my knees rotting away.” 

Some prisoners were so exhausted and hungry they fell to the floor in a limp heap, rolling in their feces-soiled clothes as guards kicked and pummeled them with sticks and fists. “When I think about those days there …” Suh’s sentence trails off, and he continues with a deep sigh. “All I could do was pray. I just kept calling out to God for help.” 

Help came when guards dragged Suh and his son onto a train, apparently headed to another prison camp. The train had no glass in its windows—people had stripped it away to trade for food—so with a prayer Suh grabbed his son and jumped out. He crossed the river once again back into the same village in China. 

Suh knew it was madness to return to the same place, but he remembered his tearful church friends who had prayed so fervently for him. He waited until midnight, then crept up to the door of a young deacon. He dared not shout out the deacon’s name, so he stood outside and coughed. The deacon and his wife were amazed because they thought they would never see him again.

This time Suh made his way to Vietnam, armed with a bamboo stick and a knife hidden in his sock. He reached Hanoi but could not find the South Korean embassy. Unable to speak Vietnamese, he could only ask in halting English, “South Korea?” For five days he searched for the embassy before spotting a cross in the distance. Suh rejoiced—a church!—but when he reached it, it turned out to be a hospital. 

Suh loitered around the hospital wondering what to do until a man in a hospital gown stepped out and asked him in Korean, “Are you Korean?” The man paid a local rickshaw runner to take him and his son to the South Korean embassy. “I escaped from North Korea,” he told the consul at the embassy. “I ask for protection.” The consul told him to get out. 

Suh wondered if he had heard wrong, or if he had come to the wrong place. Why would a South Korean brother ask him to go away, knowing full well he had nowhere to go? Then the consul picked up the phone and barked orders. Within minutes, the Vietnamese police surrounded the building. Suh, raging at this fellow countryman who would drive him out, whipped out the knife hidden in his sock and snarled, “If you don’t call off the police, I’ll slash your throat.” The consul convinced the police to disperse, and Suh ran out soon after. 

Vietnam was no longer a place of hope and safety. With his now 2-year-old son clinging to his back, Suh crossed over to Laos on foot. Even now, that’s all his son can remember: holding on to his father’s back as he traveled across unfamiliar streams and hills. For days Suh could see only mountains and the round, pale moon. His son burned with fever, limp and unconscious on his back. Exhausted, famished, and frustrated, Suh exploded into a tirade at God: “Why are you making us go through all of these sufferings, only to kill us? Are we to die and rot here in a foreign land?”

At that instant, something rustled in the bushes. Suh froze, thinking it was some kind of beast. A young lady emerged instead. She picked up his son and started walking away. Suh stumbled and chased, shouting hoarsely, certain she was kidnapping his son. Instead, she led him into a Christian home in a village—the only Christian family in that area. 

“I knew then it was all God’s doing,” Suh said. The Christian lady got his son the medicine he needed, and his fever subsided. Instance after instance like that led Suh to look back and “realize that God had always been present and working. Even the bad is all part of His grace.”

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