Those of us who were born in the USA and have always enjoyed the freedoms that our birthright provides are prone to take our freedom for granted. I know that I often do. Then, I hear a story about someone like Brother Yun or Aijalon Mahli Gomes, and I am reminded that freedom is both rare and costly. Freedom is not free.
Now comes another name to remember–that of Son Jong Nam, who escaped the North Korean police state by crossing over to China in 1998. In the military, he had served a ten year stint as a presidential security guard, and his loyalty to the state was intense. Something happened, though, that changed his mind. Here is how Hyung-Jin Kim, of the Associated Press described that change in a recent article…
(Son Jong Nam’s) wife, eight months pregnant at the time, was arrested for allegedly saying Kim Jong Il had ruined the economy and caused a mass famine. Interrogators seeking a confession kicked her in the stomach, forcing her to discharge blood and have a miscarriage, Son’s brother says.
Terrified and disillusioned, Son, then 39, fled in January 1998 with his wife and their 6-year-old daughter to the Chinese border town of Yanji. His younger brother had already arrived the previous year, fleeing what he says was a false charge of being involved in the illegal export of strategic items.
Son’s wife died of leukemia seven months later.
It was in China that Son Jong Nam met a South Korean missionary who provided, not only food and shelter, but information about someone Son and his family had not heard about in the North–the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha-Mashiach.) Son Jong Nam responded to the Gospel and began to tell others about his experience with the Word of God. In 2001, though, the Chinese arrested him for his work in taking the Gospel message to other North Koreans (who were also hiding in China) and sent him back to North Korea.
The rest of the story is almost too much for me to repeat. Hyong Jin-Kim tells of Son’s arrival, back in the North, like this…
In January 2001, Son was arrested by Chinese police for allegedly trying to convert North Korean defectors in China, which bans foreigners from proselytizing. He was deported home in April, where he was detained and tortured, leaving him with a limp, his brother said. He lost about 70 pounds (32 kilograms) in captivity.
“He was beaten in the head with clubs and given electric shocks,” his brother says, his eyes welling up with tears.
How many of us would have attended religious services this weekend, had we known that the potential bill to pay would be severe? Even that didn’t stop Son Jong Nam, though. After three years of brutality, he crossed back into China to see his daughter, then he loaded up with Bibles and cassette tapes of hymns to take back to the underground Church in North Korea.
Arrested again–for possessing Bibles–Son was returned to prison, where he endured another two years of torture before being released forever in 2008. In addition to the AP article, there is more to read about Christian martyr, Son Jong Nam, at One Free Korea, where I found this quote from a Newsweek article:
Missionaries say Christians often keep their Bibles buried in the backyard, wrapped in vinyl. Preachers based in China sometimes conduct services by mobile phone. In five to 10 minutes the pastor reads Bible passages and prays for the sick and needy. Services are kept short; the regime uses GPS trackers to locate the phones.
One does not have to be a Christian to be horrified by stories like this. The fact that brutal regimes–be they street gangs, religious factions or recognized governments–are widespread and growing in numbers is enough to be of concern to anyone who has ever tasted freedom. It is sometimes all too easy to criticize the United States of America. We have problems. We have crime. We sometimes do and say ridiculous things, but American citizens can worship God as they choose, anywhere they choose, on any day they choose–without fear of reprisal by the government. They can even choose to deny that there is a God. We have no forced arbitrators of faith here. We can read a Bible or a Koran with equal impunity.
Try that elsewhere.
Happy birthday, United States of America. May you continue to trust in God. May you continue to flourish under His wings.