by Nan Jones @NanJonesAuthor
The sun blazed hot over the North Korean bean fields. The political prisoner stumbled in the heat, starved and bent over from a back injury. His job in the labor camp was to plow rocky soil and plant seed. He hauled rocks until his hands became numb and tingling. Dropping a rock brought immediate beatings. Verbal assaults from guards tore through his mind, “No one remembers you. You have been forgotten by people, your government.”
But Kenneth Bae could not be broken down. As a devout Christian, he knew His strength came from the Lord.
Kenneth Bae is an American missionary accused of plotting to overthrow the North Korean government. In April 2013 he was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor — this coming after suffering five months of solitary confinement in Pyongyang. This remarkable man was miraculously released in November 2014 after intense American intervention, but not before making a tremendous impact on the prison guards.
Bae told Morgan Lee of Christianity Today that guards would remark to him, “We are the guards and you are the prisoner. How come you look happier than us? Where does your joy come from?” In another conversation a guard said to Bae, “You said God answered your prayers. But if God is real, then how are you still here?” Kenneth Bae explained that God has different plans and said to the guard, “Maybe His plan includes you. How will you know anything about God unless I’m here?”*
Can you imagine? Can you imagine walking in such authentic faith that your attitude towards those who imprison, torture, and abuse you is found resting in the knowledge of a Sovereign God? This amazes and inspires me. I believe it is a perfect reflection of finding freedom in Christ. Kenneth Bae experienced freedom from hell on earth because his soul abides in eternity with his Heavenly Father — he is not tethered to the whims of mankind. Although his circumstances bound his body in chains of injustice and torture, his spirit was free. He could still sing songs of praise beneath the grueling North Korean sun.
I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 4: 8, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
Perhaps this is the definition of freedom found in Christ. Though we live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people, we are able to walk by faith and not by sight. We are gifted with the wings of eagles to rise above the storm and soar. We find unspeakable joy in the midst of unbearable sorrow. We experience the peace that passes all understanding in the midst of devastating hardship. When surrounded by hate, we are bathed in the comfort of God’s love.
We are in this world, but not of this world.
And to me, this is the Truth that has set me free.
*From Print Issue: Lee, Morgan, “Prisoner Pastor,” Christianity Today, June 2016, 49.