Category: Christianity

My Way

I woke up Thursday morning around 4:30 to get all my things together and start the last minute rush to make it to the Minneapolis Airport on time for my 7:45 AM flight. A little over four hours later, all my good byes had been said, I had made it to Chicago, and I was on board a 777 Boeing, settling in for a 14 hour flight to Seoul. Even when the plane began its ascent, it did not feel real that I was actually going to Korea. I was just grateful that the sinus decongestant that I had picked up 30 minutes before my flight was actually working and the head cold that had previously prevented my ears from equalizing was finally not interfering this time! (The flight from Minneapolis to Chicago had been brutal.)
On the way over, I rehearsed the plan numerous times in my mind: get through immigration checks, get through customs, get my luggage, find a payphone, call Ho-Seok, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and board the bus to Pohang. I would have to be ready to board the bus in an hour from landing. Thinking of all that could go wrong (I randomly end up on the wrong bus, I miss the first bus and have to wait 3 hours until the next, I get kidnapped at the airport by sex traffickers, I never get picked up from the bus station at Pohang by Ho-Seok, I somehow get kidnapped while traveling on the bus, etc.) was easy to avoid for the first 2 hours of the flight. Talking to my neighbor, Kim, was incredibly fun. She was a graduate of Liberty University, a few hours away from Regent, who was headed to Korea to teach English. After talking with her for an hour, we ate dinner and both decided to bravely try the Korean option: bibimbop, a dish with rice and mixed vegetables and various side dishes. One of the side dishes was dried fish of some sort that more closely resembled tiny minnows without tails. Their eyes and vertebrae were still very much intact, however! As I ate two mouthfuls, I merely thought how much protein I was eating.
After trying to sleep a few hours, reading, talking, and not finding anything interesting to watch, I was bored out of my wits and began watching a Korean thriller that showed a police officer’s daughter being kidnapped and trafficked in Seoul. After this. the doubts were much harder to silence.
I began thinking long and hard about my way. Was this “my” way, or God’s way? Would he let me be trafficked here, or did he have a plan apart from that for me? Was this me reading too much into everything, or should I be legitimately concerned? Could I ever live with myself if I were to become a heroin-saturated trafficking victim? Would I lose my God as I lost my mind?
At 4:00 PM Korean time, our flight landed promptly in Incheon, near Seoul. My first glimpse out the plane window showed a few green mountains, an overcast sky, and a huge airport. I went through immigration and customs just fine and ended up even getting my luggage within 20 minutes of getting off the plane. Next, I found my way to the currency exchange station, then found a payphone, and dialed Ho-Seok’s number. He never answered. I had about 20 minutes left to find the bus station, buy a ticket, and board. I couldn’t risk missing that bus. I would figure something out on the way. My ears had decided they didn’t want to cooperate any longer, and they never equalized from the plane’s descent. I felt deaf and stupid as I had to ask people to repeat themselves when I would try to get directions.
I hurried to the door I’d been told was the bus station exit. I crossed the street, and voila! There was the ticket booth! After purchasing my ticket to Pohang, I stood in line for the bus. In my head, I was rehearsing options: did I write Ho-Seok’s number down incorrectly? I didn’t write the second contact’s phone number down (Why didn’t you remember to do this, Sarah????) and I never wrote the school’s address down (Again, Sarah, brilliant. What am I supposed to do when I get to the bus station and have no idea where to tell the taxi driver to go???), so my options were becoming more limited. It didn’t matter: I was where I was supposed to be, and I was on my way. Nevermind that my cell phone didn’t work, and I had no idea how I would contact Ho-Seok.
The bus took off right on time. I watched, fascinated, as mountains rolled past my window, along with some water, a few large apartment complexes, and some dilapidated looking houses. About 20 minutes into our drive, we passed a very modern looking city that had a Starbucks on a corner road… I immediately thought of my friend Candace and our adventure at Starbucks in Switzerland last month. Then I remembered what Candace is always telling me: “Jesus has this.” That relaxed me a bit, and I became incredibly sleepy.
I slept on and off until the bus pulled into a bus stop around 7:30. Everything was dark by this time. The driver parked, then barked out some Korean that sounded like an order, and then people began getting off the bus. I had no idea where we were, but I knew it wasn’t Pohang (because that was supposed to be 5 hours away!) and although I was incredibly thirsty and having difficulty breathing (the air was incredibly humid and my nasal congestion wasn’t helping anything).
A Korean woman walking by my seat looked down at me and very sweetly explained that we had 15 minutes to get out and then the bus would leave again. What an angel she was to take pity on the poor confused blonde! I rushed off, found a payphone, dialed Ho-Seok’s number again, and this time, he answered! I told him where I was and he explained that he’d be at the bus stop. Feeling much better about life, I then found some apple juice and reboarded the bus. A few hours later, the bus again pulled into a stop, but this time, it was merely a city corner, and I had no idea whether it was Pohang or not. Again, I simply waited, and sure enough – it wasn’t Pohang. Next stop was my destination.
When we finally pulled into another stop, everyone acted like they were collecting their belongings and preparing to leave, but the “stop” was a gas station, and there was no one there to meet me. I decided to simply wait yet again, and sure enough – the bus driver had merely stopped to talk with someone at the station for some reason. He climbed back in the bus, and away we went again! FINALLY, we arrived in Pohang, and I got out and collected my luggage. I still didn’t see anyone, but by the time I’d lugged all three of my heavy duffel bags onto the sidewalk, I heard someone ask whether I was Sarah, and there was my hero, Ho-Seok!
We took a taxi to the university, and I entered Bethel Hall – my home for the next week. I was a day early, I learned, so I needed to pay $5 extra for the night. NO problem! At this point, I was a hot, sticky mass of sweat and frizz, and I just wanted a shower and a clean bed. Ho-Seok, my valiant hero, translated everything for me and told me that I was assigned room 422. Unfortunately, he was sorry, but he could not help me bring my bags to the 4th floor because it was an all-girls’ floor and he was not allowed there. I took the elevator to the 4th floor, and was greeted right away with dozens of shoes and sandals all over the floor right before the hall way. I remembered I was in Asia, and removed my smelly sneakers. Then I walked up to 422 and of course, no one opened the door. I had no key code, so I walked back downstairs (taking the stairs because the elevator didn’t work) and while dripping into a puddle in the hall’s main office, tried to explain that no one was in the room to let me in. The office worker followed me back and had similar luck. She then said that I could stay in her room for the night. She helped me get all situated and I learned that her name was Hyo-Hyung, but I could call her Clara because that was her English name.
My first night in Korea was a blur of sweat, confusion, and thirst. I did manage to take a shower in a public shower area (something to get used to for the week), and I unpacked and slept surprisingly well on a tiny 2-inch thick substitute for a mattress. Clara had told me about church the next morning, so I woke up around 8:00 and found my way to the campus chapel for service. It was very enjoyable, despite stifling deep coughs and sniffles during the sermon and prayers.
After it ended, I met an extremely kind 2L named Esther who volunteered to show me around campus a bit. She brought me to the campus convenience store which happened to be in the basement of my dorm, and then took me to the law school classroom building where I was finally able to access wireless internet! I then met a professor and his wife and family, the Mundys, for lunch. They were incredibly kind and made delicious eggs and biscuits – a very welcome reminder of the States!
Then I walked back to my dorm and was found by another 2L student, Rachel, who was going to give me a campus tour. Rachel and I hit it off immediately. She is from Kenya and can identify with the adjustment that “Korean time” creates. In her words, “Korean time is supposed to be about flexibility – that you are flexible and just have to go with it. It isn’t that way. Instead, everything is last minute and either it works or it doesn’t. There is no flexibility!” I couldn’t agree more. BUT, I’m learning that if it works, it was supposed to, and if it doesn’t, be prepared next time!
Talking with Rachel was the first time I really felt at home here. I love the friendly people, especially Clara, but everything was so different and required some sort of adjustment from me, that it was nice to simply be with Rachel and not worry about whether I had to be somewhere or do something or somehow make up for someone else’s mistake or miscommunication.
After our tour ended, I got a computer converter and ethernet chord at the campus store and returned to my room in much better spirits. Clara was there, and we began talking.
She opened up to me and shared her background and come to find out… she’s an International Studies major who toured Europe for a month in January! What a small world. We then began talking about what Clara calls “our visions” and “ways.” She said she didn’t know what her way was, where she was supposed to work, what she was supposed to do, etc. I told her that I didn’t know mine either, but I felt very sure of my focus.
She didn’t know, but just a few hours earlier, I’d been discussing my plans with a professor and was yet again overwhelmed with how many options there are and how impossible they all seemed. I had begun to seriously doubt whether I was even supposed to be here.
But talking with Clara totally reaffirmed that I do in fact know my way. I do not know where it will take me, but I do know that I am supposed to be taking it. God has led me this far, and despite appearances, I think I will learn to fit in well here. Everything was new, yes. But I expected it to be. I really love the people at the school here, and I can learn to live with the humidity. The mat I have already gotten used to, as I slept a full 10 hours before waking up at 4:00 AM here to write.
I am blessed beyond measure. I have a chance to find more of my way. And I am now confident that my way leads to Korea.


Wave Watching

This weekend, back at Virginia Beach, I sat on the edge of the ocean for hours, just watching the waves and letting them wash over me. For whatever reason, I realized that I have not been “casting all my cares” on God. I’ve been carrying them around, feeling responsible to change so much that I cannot, feeling the hurt of people I cannot help, putting pressure on myself to somehow be perfect, or at least measure up to what I perceive to be people’s expectations of me as an intern. Watching the waves’ constant rhythm, their fluidity and brevity, reminded me that when I bring something to God in prayer, I lay it at His feet and then release it. Like a wave that, after foaming onto the sand, quickly turns back into the water and is completely gone, my expectations and anxieties, my “problems,” are taken care of, final. In a sense, gone. The problems may not disappear, but my sense of responsibility for fixing them does because it is only through the strength that God provides, not my own, that I will be able to cope. In other words, I was reminded that the powerful God who created the awesome ocean with all of its majestic, surging waters is the same God who cares about me and rules the universe (which means, of course, that I do NOT! lol). I know it is no coincidence that the verse immediately preceding 1 Peter 5:7 says we must humble ourselves under “God’s mighty hand.” It would make no sense to cast our cares on God if He were not able to fully take them and give us strength to deal with them, nor is it possible to really cast our cares on Him if we have too high of an opinion of ourselves and our abilities as we will simply just attempt to fix everything on our own and be self-centered by being self-focused… I guess what I’m trying to communicate is that I should be making much more of an effort to release my feelings of inadequacy and self-focus and rather spend that energy reveling in God’s greatness and resting in His ability to accomplish His perfect will.

Suddenly the Slowness

Listening to the Adagio movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 is like taking a deep breath while standing out under the hundreds of stars in a crisp winter evening. Being nowhere and yet everywhere, feeling nothing in particular and yet everything. Imagining the potential, dormant life, the what-ifs feeling as if they are had-beens. Tangible phantoms dancing in your head, in front of your eyes, inhaled in. Slowly.

And knowing, really knowing, that everything is right. Slowly, the suddenness sinks in.

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

-Isaiah 40:21-26

10,000 Reasons

I have to read 30 pages of Contracts. And Torts… 20 pages, I think. Ok. I can do that by Contracts class at 10:25. Oh. I have to read Civ Pro too…”
In my mind, I recited my list of things to do before class, opened my eyes a minute before 5:20 AM, then began thinking of the research paper I had to edit sometime today.

I couldn’t do it. I knew I had to wake up, but I had no strength. My eyes refused to focus. They stung. Threatened to remain shut if I tried to open them. Eight times I tried to sit up and swing my feet off the bed onto the floor. Eight times I gave up and flopped helplessly back on my pillows.

Four hours later, I finally forced myself to stumble into the shower. After trying to pray for strength repeatedly, and falling asleep each time, I finally mumbled an eloquent “God, please get me through today” as I turned on the water. The squeal of the faucet knobs as I adjusted the water temperature reminded me that I was no longer asleep.

I never read for my first class today.

I haven’t been able to really read anything in a semester, it seems. Everything has been rushed, not fully absorbed.

I could list at least thirty reasons I feel overwhelmed, upset, hurt, inadequate, and as if I am both failing and a failure.

In fact, I think I’ve been indulging myself in coming up with way more than thirty reasons today.

But for those thirty reasons, though they are valid, and I’ve never felt so physically worn, mentally and emotionally worn out, there are at least one hundred more reasons to give thanks.

Give thanks in every circumstance.

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

A certain song writer by the name of Matt Redman would say there are 10,000 reasons for praising God.

I don’t know if I will be able to finish law school. I don’t even know if I will be able to get up tomorrow, much less finish writing my paper tonight.

I know that I am on the brink. The abyss is waiting, eager to swallow me whole.

But I also know that my God is stronger than any powers, whether in heaven, earth, or hell; I know that my God calls me his child, regardless of whether I pass this semester; I know that nothing can separate me from His love. I have a million reasons to be thankful. Even if I lose everything, and there is a very real possibility that may happen, I will be found in Him. I will not be lost, for He will always hold me.

“Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes.

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before,
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name.”
-10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman

The Beautiful Is

“By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy – indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction.”
-William Osler
Am I apathetic? Am I prideful?
I’d like to say I’m not. But I am.
Pride is the inability to focus on what is, the I AM. Pride instead focuses on what we think is, who we are, and who we think we could be. If our focus is on ourselves, we will never be content, we are incapable of satisfying ourselves and our deep need for perfection. We should all be perfectionists: people pursuing the Perfect One relentlessly, not people trying to perfect themselves with their imperfect attempts. Will I let my desire for perfection drive me closer to the One who defines all else, or will I try to be greater than He is? Tell Him my plan and require Him to approve it?
Am I apathetic? I’d like to think I’m not. But am I apathetic about what is most important? Am I focusing on reality or only my perceived reality? Am I relentlessly living for the God who spoke the world into being, or am I trying to mean the world to others?
How can I so quickly forget? And why do I so frequently go after what I know will not be enough, while ignoring the One I know I need?

“Watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
-Matthew 26:41

I was encouraged multiple times today to lean again on God. On “just” God, and yet, EVERYTHING on God. Somewhere along the way, I’ve decided I’ve become self-sufficient, that I can somehow handle everything, or be responsible for everything. I think I must find my own strength. Be good enough. Be more. Reach perfection.

I cannot.

I will never find perfection in my own futile attempts to try. I must fly on the wings of the Perfect, take time every day, every hour, every thought, to cherish His perfection. To see Him for who HE IS, to be reminded of who he is and then by default, who I am.

“It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures… but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream… If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows – the only food that any possible universe ever can grow – then we must starve eternally.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pp. 41-42)

I am not perfect, but He loves me. He is perfecting me: not for my own satisfaction, but so that I will be more lovable and able to appreciate His perfection more. This inevitably leads to incomparable satisfaction, but it is not the end goal; I am not the focus. And knowing that, really knowing it, is so incredibly freeing.

Over break, I read C.S.Lewis’s book “The Problem of Pain.” I am reminded of a section from the third chapter of the work, titled “Divine Goodness.”

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some “disinterested”, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of his love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect”, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, nor the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest ‘well pleased.’ To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities – no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt…What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.

“I plainly foresee that the course of my argument may provoke a protest…it may be objected that a mere reversal of our own ethics is precisely what we have been asked to accept. The kind of love which I attribute to God, it may be said, is just the kind which in human beings we describe as ‘selfish’ or ‘possessive,’ and contrast unfavorably with another kind which seeks first the happiness of the beloved and not the contentment of the lover…

“The truth is that this antithesis between egoistic and altruistic love cannot be unambiguously applied to the love of God for His creatures. Clashes of interest, and therefore opportunities either of selfishness or unselfishness, occur only between beings inhabiting a common world: God can no more be in competition with a creature than Shakespeare can be in competition with Viola. When God becomes a Man and lives as a creature among His own creatures in Palestine, then indeed His life is one of supreme self-sacrifice and leads to Calvary…But God in His transcendence cannot easily be thought of in the same way. We call human love selfish when it satisfies its own needs at the expense of the object’s needs…None of these conditions is present in the relation of God to man. God has no needs. Human love, as Plato teaches us, is the child of Poverty – of a want or lack; it is caused by a real or supposed good in its beloved which the lover needs and desires. But God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all the goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence and then into real, though derivative, love-ability. God is Goodness. He can give good, but cannot need or get it. In that sense, all His love is, as it were, bottomlessly selfless by very definition; it has everything to give and nothing to receive.Hence, if God sometimes speaks as thought the Impassible could suffer passion and eternal fullness could be in want, and in want of those beings on whom it bestows all from their bare existence upwards, this can mean only, if it means anything intelligible by us, that God of mere miracle has made Himself able so to hunger and created in Himself that which we can satisfy. If He requires us, the requirement is His own choice.” (pp. 48 – 50)

God has granted me sight to see and appreciate the Beautiful, the Good, His Being. Will I continue to see through His eyes, be so in tune with His heart that my heart breaks for what breaks His, and rejoices for what gladdens His? Or will I instead be like Peter, James, and John when with Jesus in Gethsemane, they failed to realize his heart was sorrowful,even after spending years with him, and hearing him tell them that he was grieved and requested their prayers? Instead of praying, they slept. Will I choose sleep, my own good, over what He would ask? Will I apathetically ignore the Good, pursuing the ugly instead of the Beautiful?

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
-Micah 6:8

Healing Begins

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
– 1 John 1:5-10

Healing Begins (listen)

So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you’re good
And you can’t believe it’s not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside

So let ’em fall down
There’s freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We’re here now

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Afraid to let your secrets out
Everything that you hide
Can come crashing through the door now
But too scared to face all your fear
So you hide but you find
That the shame won’t disappear

So let it fall down
There’s freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We’re here now
We’re here now, oh

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Sparks will fly as grace collides
With the dark inside of us
So please don’t fight
This coming light
Let this blood come cover us
His blood can cover us

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

– Healing Begins, by Tenth Avenue North

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 –
>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 –
Christian Solidarity Worldwide –
International Justice Mission –
Persecution.Org –
Barnabus Aid –
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”
To read the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, click

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the Lord, who remains faithful forever.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

“Scripture speaks of both a holiness which we have in Christ before God, and a holiness which we are to strive after. These two aspects of holiness complement one another, for our salvation is a salvation to holiness: ‘For God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life’ (1 Thessalonians 4:7). To the Corinthians, Paul wrote: ‘To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy’ (1 Corinthians 1:2). The word sanctified here means “made holy.” That is, we are through Christ made holy in our standing before God and called to be holy in our daily lives.
So the writer of Hebrews is telling us to take seriously the necessity of personal, practical holiness. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives at our salvation, he comes to make us holy in practice. If there is not, then, at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life pleasing to God, we need to seriously question whether our faith in Christ is genuine.

The whole purpose of our salvation is that we be “holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). To continue to live in sin as a Christian is to go contrary to God’s very purpose for our salvation… Holiness, then, is not necessary as a condition of salvation -that would be salvation by works – but as a part of salvation that is received by faith in Christ… We cannot receive half of God’s grace. If we have experienced it at all, we will experience not only forgiveness of our sins but also freedom from sin’s dominion.
This is the point James is making in his hard-to-understand passage on faith and works (James 2:14-26). He is simply telling us that a “faith” that does not result in works – in a holy life, in other words – is not a living faith by a dead one, no better than that which the demons possess.”
-Taken from Chapter 3, pp. 32-35

Children of the Heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given

God His own doth tend and nourish
In His holy courts they flourish
From all evil things He spares them
In His mighty arms He bears them

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth

Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne’er forsaketh
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy

Lo their very hairs He numbers
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev’ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers
Your Protector never slumbers
At the will of your Defender
Ev’ry foe man must surrender.

I love Plumb’s version of this hymn:.