I feel numb, deadened that I am so free. The whys no longer bother me as much as the hows: how could a country change so quickly, how can a tyrant gain such power? I remember my own ignorance and ask how can the suffering be stopped? I question whether I can do anything to stop it, and inevitably, how?

Over 200,000 men, women, and children are currently prisoners in political penal labor
colonies, prison labor facilities, or detention facilities in the Democratic People’s Republic of
Korea. The camps have existed for half a century, twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps and twice as long as the Soviet Gulag.

According to The Hidden Gulag, a book published by U.N. human rights expert David
Hawk, prisoners are arrested and imprisoned, often for life, without a trial in kwan-li-so (political penal labor colonies). People may be arrested for any alleged political opposition to the government, even if they personally did not oppose the regime. Koreans three generations removed from someone once labeled a political “threat” may be arrested even if they personally have never caused political opposition. The slightest suspicion leads to immediate imprisonment and often, the prisoners do not even know the charges under which they were arrested. Choosing to practice any religion is also a major reason for being imprisoned.

The kyo-hwa-so (prison labor facilities) are similar to the kwan-li-so in that forced labor, executions, torture, and mistreatment of all kinds abound. But the main difference is that unlike kwan-li-so prisoners, those in the kyo-hwa-so are usually political prisoners tried and given a definite sentence. Some of them are eventually released. In addition to these, there are several types of camps for North Koreans forcibly repatriated from China.

Prisoners’ bodies are used for cruel experiments. They are poisoned, gassed, burnt. Women are raped then punished for having had forbidden sex, they are beaten, and forced to undergo abortions or watch their babies die after birth. Husbands are separated from their wives, children from their parents. Prisoners are “re-educated,” tortured until they confess to crimes they never committed. They work 12-15 hours of hard labor each day, surviving on 70 kernels of corn and bits of salt. Some get nothing and must eat the leftovers of the camp: reptiles, insects, rodents, or rotten vegetation. Many of them will die before they are fifty. Most of the women become hunch-backed. They live in crowded cells; some don’t have enough space to lie down.

One woman, Soon Ok Lee is a remarkable survivor of the camps. She not only miraculously escaped, she later became a Christian and has written a memoir and testified before Congress multiple times. David Hawk’s book provides a good summary of her experiences:
“LEE Soon Ok was born in 1947 into a privileged and stalwart Korean Workers’ Party family. Trained as an accountant, Lee rose to become a supervisor in the No. 65 Distribution Center in Onsong, North Hamgyong Province, which distributed Chinese-manufactured fabrics to party and state officials. She was arrested in 1986 in what she believes was a power struggle between the Workers’ Party, whose members run the nationwide distribution system, and the public security bureau police, who were not satisfied with the amount of goods being provided to them by the distribution centers. She was charged with theft and bribery and held for seven months in the Onsong bo-wi-bu (National Security Agency) ka-mok (jail), where she was tortured severely because she refused to confess to the allegations against her. Then, upon her
expulsion from the Party, she was transferred to an In-min-bo-an-seong (People’s Safety
Agency) provincial interrogation center, where she was held for another seven months
and further tortured.
“To escape even further torture and threats against her family members, Lee ultimately
agreed to sign a confession. Afterwards, she was given a public trial and sentenced to
fourteen years at Kyo-hwa-so No. 1, located at Kaechon, South Pyong-an Province,
where, among other things, the prisoners manufacture garments. Though she originally
worked in the ordinary sewing lines, she was eventually transferred because of her
accounting and managerial experience to the administrative office of the prison, where
she had the opportunity to observe and learn a great deal more about how the prison labor
camp was run.
“After her release, in February 1994, Lee and her son fled from North Korea to China,
eventually arriving in South Korea in December 1995 via Hong Kong. Once in South
Korea, she wrote a prison memoir, Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a
North Korean Woman, which names numerous persons who died under torture in the
jails of Onsong and from various mistreatments at Kaechon prison labor camp.”

Some of the things she describes in her memoir are unbelievable. She writes, “I used to believe that the North Korean government valued every individual. Then I found out that the government purposely allocated the number of people to be sent to prison so they could have free labor. Every ten years, the government released many prisoners to celebrate Kim Il-Sung’s birthday, but I discovered that as soon as they were released, the government arrested more healthy people who could work more effectively. People who were released from prison received new ID cards showing that they were once criminals. Therefore, they were always watched. Many were returned to prison.”

Situations like these seem hopeless because we seem helpless to solve them. It is easy to think that there is nothing we can do to directly halt atrocities like this. And when you think that this is just ONE country in a world where there are millions of injustices occurring every day, it is hard not to be completely overwhelmed.

But we cannot be overwhelmed, because we serve a mighty God: One who has redeemed us, One who is Master over all things, including Death and Satan – One who is able to ultimately bring good out of incredible tragedy and evil. Romans 12:21 says “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Our God is good. And our God will overcome evil.

In Jeremiah 22:15-16, God specifically states what it means to know him, how we may know him fully:
(Speaking to Josiah’s son about his father) “ ‘He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord.”
Knowing God means knowing what is “right and just” – knowing the Truth and Righteousness of God. That knowledge then leads to action – defending the cause of the poor and needy.

I challenge you to know your God and to use your God-given power as an individual. That may seem ironic – isn’t an individual weak?

Instead of seeing ourselves as powerless “individuals,” we should recognize that we are individuals called to obediently serve an all-powerful God. We each are allowed to choose to love God, and to obey his command to love others as ourselves. He has given us all individual responsibilities and opportunities to glorify him, and placed people in our lives that we should be caring for and reaching out to. Human suffering and pain has many forms and is certainly not limited to modern-day slavery, persecution, or human trafficking situations. There are so many opportunities for each of us to do good, to help someone each day – this is the type of obedience God calls us to. An attitude of obedience allows us to remember that we are only servants of an all-powerful God, not God himself, and we can then focus on following Him one step at a time.

As Anne Frank said, “How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” It is not enough to simply say that someone else will take care of needs we see and turn our eyes away from the problems. Instead, we should “defend the cause of the poor and needy.” To do that requires that we first understand the problems and be aware of the needs and causes we should be working to help. Once we are aware of a need, we must defend those who have no defenses, speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Prov. 31:8-9).

God uses ordinary people to work out his plans. He used a few Hebrew midwives to save Hebrew babies; a young prisoner, Joseph, to protect the people of Egypt from famine; Esther to save the Jews; the prostitute Rahab to protect Israelite spies; Amy Carmichael to protect dozens of young Indian girls from a life of forced prostitution and slavery; Corrie Ten Boom and her father to protect Jewish refugees during World War II; and on and on the list goes. We do not know how God will use us, but we must be willing to obey him in whatever he asks. We may not be able to fight on the front lines to abolish extermination camps, political prison camps, human trafficking, and other international human rights abuses, but we can all stand up for the people we know at home, at work, even across the world, who are being taken advantage of or are defenseless.

When it comes to injustices, we are individuals helping individuals – which means that while we may not be able to help as many as we wish we could, each person we help is affected in a large way. Helping just one person – rescuing just one person from a life of slavery, rescuing just one child from being beaten, helping just one person through a difficult time in life, feeding one hungry person, whatever it is, will mean the world to that one person you help.

So what can we do as individuals who want to fight injustice?

First of all, we can pray. We know we are in a spiritual war (Eph. 6:12) One of our main weapons is prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says we are to “Pray continually;” Ephesians 6: 18 says to “Be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints;” James 5:16 says the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective;” and Colossians 4:2 says “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

We must pray seriously. Hebrews 13:3 says “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” That verse is not talking only about prayer, but I believe it applies to prayer: If I were in a prison similar to what Soon Ok Lee was imprisoned in, I would be completely desperate and on my hands and knees every minute, praying for strength. How much more should we -who have so many luxuries and free time – be pleading with God each day for the thousands of Christians tortured and imprisoned for their faith, or for the thousands of innocent victims who may not be believers. Soon Ok Lee ends her memoir with these words, “The forgotten people in North Korea are the ones we should pray for and send God’s love. We should also remember those believers who are in prison because they will not deny the God in heaven. Their pleading eyes cry out to us. We must be faithful to bring God’s love to them all.”

Second, we must do, as Jer. 22:15 says, what is “right and just.” I believe this implies more than simply being people of integrity – it means we should do what is in our power to uphold justice and righteousness. One woman may not be able to stop concentration camps in North Korea, but she can influence her family, her friends, her church, to become aware of the problem, to speak out against it, to elect legislators and government authorities who will work to abolish it. She can teach her children and people around her Biblical principles about justice and protecting humans’ basic God-given dignity because they have been created in the image of God. She can influence those around her to act fairly, to see humans as God does and not as objects to be manipulated and used for one’s own selfish gain. Cultural revolution begins with individuals.

Third, we can support organizations who are able to be “on the front lines” in the fight against severe human rights abuses and persecutions through direct involvement in government and non-governmental intervention and aid. We can support those organizations directly (volunteering) and indirectly. Financial donations can be useful, but what almost every Christian organization specifically asks for is your prayer. Organizations such as International Justice Mission, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Voice of the Martyrs, and many others, are doing amazing things for God and making great progress in rescuing people from slavery and unjust cruelty.

Fourth, we, as American citizens, can use our incredible freedoms and opportunities for involvement in our government to act against issues that are present in our country (such as abortion and human trafficking). We can do this by educating ourselves on these issues, educating others, voting for people who will work to find solutions, discussing these issues with other people, informing our communities and government leaders that we care about resolving injustices, and doing everything in our power to protect freedom and uphold correct rule of law.

God says that faith without works is dead. Helping the helpless, loving the unlovely, serving those who have nothing to give in return are all ways we live out our faith and show God to the world. James 3 emphasizes that, while we cannot neglect to care for a person spiritually, we also cannot neglect to care for him or her physically.

By setting aside our fears and reservations, by giving of ourselves to meet others’ needs, and by being willing to care for others, we choose to overcome evil with good; we choose to say “Here I am Lord, use me.” By getting in the middle of situations no one else wants to touch – situations others call hopeless – and focusing on the hope we have in Christ, we are in effect shouting to a despairing world: “There is still hope, there is still love, there is still life. Good is overcoming evil. God reigns!”

Says the Lord in Isaiah 58:6-11:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
“To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing quickly appear: then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

US Dept. of State – http://www.state.gov
>Democracy and Global Affairs
> Human Rights/ Religious Persecution/ Trafficking in Persons (each category will bring up different pages and you can see different reports on each topic)

Voice of the Martyrs – http://www.persecution.com
Christian Solidarity Worldwide – http://www.csw.org.uk/joinus.htm
International Justice Mission – http://www.ijm.org/getinvolved
Persecution.Org – http://www.persecution.org/awareness
Barnabus Aid – http://barnabasfund.org/US/Our-work/Our-current-projects/BF-Project-Countries
Each of these sites (except the Dept. of State one) has news articles you can read, ways you can pray for each country, and projects that you can provide financial support for. Barnabus Aid has an especially interesting and concise “Projects” page that is broken down country by country.
To read the book I referenced today, go to David Hawk’s site and select “The Hidden Gulag” http://www.davidrhawk.com/HiddenGulag.pdf
To read the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, click http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/

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