The day before our performance at Songnae, everybody at Durihana went out to eat. We wound up getting Jjajangmyun, my first foray into eating what would soon be one of my favorites. That, however, isn’t so much the point, as much as setting up the scene, so I won’t go into food. God knows I have a problem in chasing rabbit trails, especially when food is involved.
When we left, we had taken vans, and there were not enough room to carry everybody back in the vans. We weren’t far from our church, so three of us (myself, and two North Korean guys) walked back to Durihana. We were stopped on the corner of the main intersection leading back, and they looked at me and told me something I’ll never forget. They said this in a mixture of Korean and English, which, being new students to the language, was a feat in and of itself, but just the look on their faces and the tone used on top of it always brings me back to the statements made when they spoke. I’ll write what they said verbatim (The words they used in Korean will be in parenthisis):
“(South Korea), good. (USA), good. Obama, good. Lee Myung-bak, good. (North Korea), bad. Kim Jong-il, bad. Kim Il-sung, bad. We hate Kim Jong-il.” They then asked if I understood. I nodded.
As I thought about what was said later, my theological mind started whirring and thinking about the ramifications of what they told me. “They should be loving their enemies and not hating them.”
But really, as I’ve come to really think about this, really, what would I say in their shoes? You know, it’s really easy to say in my spot that you should love a person or a group that has, unequivocally, done you harm. Really, at that point in my life, what was the worst atrocity done to me?
I can say it was in 5th grade, and I was on the playground. I was a loner back then. I wasn’t well liked among my peers. One day a few of my classmates came out on playground. Apparently, as they saw me playing alone through the windows, they decided among themselves that it would be fun to push me around for the duration of recess. So they did. And they came out of the doors, found me, and threw me to the ground, hit me, and kicked me around. I ran, and they followed me, trapped me, and repeated the process.
Pretty soon, a larger group formed out of that single three students, and they continued the assault. I did the best I could at this point to get help and ran in front of one of the teachers that was monitoring the playground. They turned their back on it happening. I ran into the school, and was pushed back out by another teacher.
Eventually, I was in front of another teacher, and the same thing happened in front of her. Only somehow, she was blaming me for the mess that I was in. At this time, I had no options left. I bolted through the doors of the school, and hid near the safe in the school. My fourth grade teacher found me by chance, and took me to the principal, whom took my side, and harshly reprimanded the boys who were responsible for the incident.
I was eventually able to forgive the people that did it to me. I moved on in my life. But that memory still stays in my mind. And from that point on, I was apprehensive of teachers and hated school. I never looked at those teachers that turned their backs on me in the same light.
And here I was, with these two North Korean guys, saying they hated their country and Kim Jong-il. I never got their exact stories of what happened with them, but you can pretty much assume that they aren’t fairy tales. Every North Korean there has a story, and it isn’t a pretty one.
So we’re talking about a government, and a leader that commits some of, if not the, most vile acts of human rights violations in the world. Acts that are bad enough that all these people that I surrounded myself with had no choice but to flee their home land. That risking getting caught in China was a better solution than staying where they were.
How could I expect them to love them? I know the scriptures, but it’s a tall order to ask for. I can’t tell you how long it took me for to overcome the anger of what happened to me in the 5th grade. What about them? A lot of them were newly in South Korea. That pretty much makes it clear that they suffered for a long time as a result of North Korea.
Even when they come to Seoul, their pain isn’t over. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This is not an epic quest that has a full resolution and happy ending at the end of the arduous journey. They are snubbed by South Koreans because they’re from the North. Yes, despite the same race and a common language, they are still looked down upon because of where they were born. They struggle fitting in in a free society, after having been manipulated their whole lives under a dictatorship. Some of them struggle to even have thoughts of their own. Even still, a lot of them still have family in North Korea. Some of them cry over the separation from their family.
Really, to me, it’s no wonder they hate their home country. It’s no wonder they hate the Kim regime. It’s no wonder none of them mourned when Kim Jong-il died last year. Throw the grandeur of sound theology to the wind for a second, and think, could you blame them?
Obviously, I would love to see them find a way to forgive the people that mistreated them. I would love to see them love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. But really, who of us are perfect, that we don’t have similar shortcomings? And how could I judge them for what they said?
Really, after coming to Durihana, I have found myself even seeing North Korea through their eyes. When the 33 refugees were repatriated in February, I found myself angry. I found myself, the theological student that I am, repressing feelings of hatred for Kim Jong-un. That could’ve been someone’s sister that I personally knew!
And then I remembered, at that moment, their words, like they had said them yesterday. And I could understand better exactly why they said what they said. It began to sound less crazy when you knew the atrocities that happen there truly affect the world. Sadly, it’s something that we, the free world have yet to fully grasp. It affects all of us, but we have chosen to turn a blind eye to that and focus on North Korea’s military threats and tests.
If the world would only change their point of view from playing defense against a military that only says what it says to get food aid, but yet never disperse it to the people who are truly starving, to playing offense for the people suffering so dearly, what kind of changes would we see right now?