Christians in an anti-Christian world
We all know that the U.S. won the war over Japan in 1945. But let us suppose that Japan defeated the U.S. and their military occupied the continent of the United States of America. What would the government of Japan do to the Americans?
One thing I picture is that Japan would build Shinto shrines in every city and in every village. They would give the ultimatum to the Christians, “Either deny your Christian faith and go to a Shinto temple, bow down to the picture of the Japanese emperor, who is the descendent of Amaterasu, the sun god, or you will be tortured, put to hard labor, or be imprisoned.”
What would you do as Christians? Your lives are at stake. The lives of your families are also at stake.
My father faced such a decision in 1942 when Japan controlled Korea and was at war with the United States. I was 6 years old then. All the church doors were forced to close. Korean Christian ministers were given a choice, “Either forsake the Christian faith and bow down to the picture of the Japanese emperor, or go to prison.”
My father refused to bow down to the picture of the Japanese emperor, and thus chose prison life.
My family was left without a father. My mother had to feed us some way. She bought a treadle sewing machine and started making dresses for people and sewed or altered dresses brought by people. Her income was meager. Fortunately, some church members helped us when they could.
Months after my father was taken to prison, my 15 year old brother volunteered to join the Japanese military and left home for Japan. He volunteered with the hope of having his father released from prison.
After my brother left, Father had a stroke in prison. He was brought home under house arrest. When the Japanese police found out that we had a two story brick building with many rooms – the house left to us by the American missionary – they kicked us out, and we were left homeless. Mother had to scramble to find a place for us to stay.
With the dropping of the two atomic bombs – one in Hiroshima and the other in Nagasaki – Japan surrendered, and the war came to end in August, 1945. Japan left Korea. My brother returned home. He had gone to Japan as a vibrant 15 year old boy, and after the war he returned home as injured 18 year old man, who died a year later from his injury.
With Japan gone from Korea, my father could preach again without the fear of government reprisal. Unfortunately, my father could preach only 5 more years because in June, 1950, North Korean Communists invaded South Korea, and within three days, they entered Seoul, Korea, where we lived. The church doors were closed again because the North Korean communists did not believe in Christianity. They thought Christianity was the religion of the imperialist west, especially America. About a month later, the Communists came to my house and took my father away because he was a Christian minister, and he never returned home.
When I reflect on my father, he led the life described by St. Paul – Romans 8:35-39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
His faith in the love of Jesus Christ gave my father the strength to rise above his own life, preach the gospel, to love his neighbors, to live with peace in his heart when the world around him was against Christians.
With her husband taken away, my mother had to shoulder the burden of taking care of us. As the last child in her family, I followed her everywhere: went to church with her, sat by her when she entertained her guests, went to market with her, and slept next to her. As a child, I watched her suffer under the Japanese and under the North Koreans.
Above all, I remember her praying. She prayed when the Japanese took my father to prison; she prayed my brother went to Japan; she prayed when Father was brought home under house arrest. Mother prayed when Brother returned home from Japan as an injured man, and she prayed when Brother was dying in a hospital bed, and after Father was taken away by the Communists. Through prayer she found strength to lead us onward with love and wisdom through the trials and tribulations.
To my mother, God was not someone high in heaven looking down from Heaven and checking on who was sinning and who was believing, thus keeping an inventory of sinners and believers. But to my mother God was beside her in her time of sadness and in her time of joy. She talked to Him all the time, sometimes her handkerchief soaked with tears. In her journey through the dark tunnel of trials and tribulations, my mother found strength believing that God walked with her, giving her strength and comfort.
My mother cared even for those who hurt her. She gave thanks to God when there seemed nothing to be thankful for. She prayed without ceasing, and through prayer she found strength to march on.
St. Paul wrote, See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. ( I. Thessalonians, Ch.5, V 15-18)
Mother walked with God next to her and found strength. She believed the words in the 23rd Psalm:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou are with me; they rod and they staff they comfort me.
When I was 16 in 1953 during the Korean War, Mother put me on a boat to go to America. She wanted me to be safe and to get a good education.
At that time Koreans thought that America was a very rich country where highways were paved with gold and where money trees grew in abundance. When I arrived at San Francisco on February 20, 1953, I found that the highways were paved with gray concrete – not gold. I did not find any money tree where I could climb up and picked few dollars to spend each day. The first summer at a camp, I washed dishes – hundreds a day. I cleaned toilets with my bare hands. I took garbage to the dump to feed fat maggots. I dug ditches. I painted cabins. During my high school years, I shoveled coal to heat the dormitory. On weekends I cleaned the classrooms moving thirty desks from one side to another, and put them back to original places. During my freshman year at college, to save money for tuition, I had raw eggs for breakfast in my room, and for supper, I ate three pieces of Wonder bread with peanut butter on one side and grape jelly on the other. Sometimes I felt so lonely I sat in front of a vanity mirror to keep company with the person in the mirror.
My first ten years in America were emotionally much tougher years than my 16 years in Korea through the two wars. But how did I survive those years? I remembered my father who gave his life for Christ. I remembered my mother who prayed for me day and night. The memory of my father’s faith in God, and my mother’s unceasing prayer for me gave me the courage to march onward through many difficult years in America and to be able to share my story with you.