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     Feb 27, 2008
What would Jesus do to North Korea?
By Sunny Lee

NAMYANGJU, South Korea - What would Jesus Christ do to North Korea? Unfortunately for South Korea's newly inaugurated President Lee Myung-bak, a pious Christian and an elder of a Presbyterian church, there is no ready answer. Lee is still busy sculpting a concrete body of North Korean policy amid his outwardly tough talk on the North. Lee, for instance, had initially planned to scrap the government's North Korean department only to back down and preserve it after an uproar.

In the meantime, Lee may want to listen to what a former North Korean commando and now a faithful disciple of Jesus has to say on North Korea. "North Korea shares the same ethnicity with South Korea. We should love people there. But we should also keep in mind that the two remain as ideological enemies. This is

true even today," Reverend Kim Shin-jo, 67, said in an interview at his hillside church in the Mount Ungil, Namyangju City, east of Seoul.

In 1968, Reverend Kim was Lieutenant Kim. He was the only commando captured alive in a 31-member special force squad that had been dispatched from North Korea to Seoul. "I've come here to cut off the throat of Park Chung-hee," this very chilling statement from Kim on his arrest made the international headlines. Park Chung-hee was the South Korean president at that time.

After going through an intense interrogation for one year by South Korean authorities, Kim was released. It was proven that he didn't fire a single shot in the bloody standoff - in which his assassination team approached as close as 300 meters from the Presidential House - that eventually left 34 South Koreans and 29 North Korean commandos dead. One North Korean commando escaped and returned to the North.

Now, 40 years later, while welcoming the new president Lee's inauguration on Monday, Kim said the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration was naive in dealing with North Korea: "They worked with North Korea without knowing North Korea," adding he knows how North Koreans think because he's from there. Kim also criticized some politicians for trying to co-opt the "North Korean agenda" for their own political benefit.

"A few politicians brag about having met with some senior North Korean officials. Some say Kim Jong-il is a leader of high caliber. Ironically, they use all this in an attempt to raise their political profile in the South. They should stop using North Korea for their own political goals," Kim said.

Kim has now lived in South Korea long enough that he speaks the language without any hint of a North Korean accent. But during his first few years, his new life in the capitalist South Korea wasn't that easy.

When his son went to elementary school, for example, the son found in an anti-communist textbook a dark-shadowy demon-like figure with horns on the head. Underneath was his father's name. Schoolmates bullied him as a "commie kid". When Kim's wife went shopping, the neighbors poured scorn on her, calling her a "commie wife". Faced with contempt from local people, Kim's family had to move to another town, but people there learned of his past and Kim's family became a subject of derision again. Once again, they moved on.

Kim felt very sorry for his family to suffer because of his past. Kim also found out that after he became a South Korean citizen in 1970, his parents were publicly executed and his relatives were all purged in North Korea. Overwhelmed with public disapproval in the South and drenched in guilt, Kim considered committing suicide many times. He eventually found solace in religion. And it was his wife who helped him make that transition.

"One day, it was my wife's birthday. And she made a special request from me for her birthday present. She wanted me to attend a church." Kim honored her request. But life at church initially confused him because so many practices in the church were similar to the ones done in North Korea.

"When people prayed for 'God', it reminded me of Kim Il-sung who was regarded as God in North Korea," said Kim. "When people said Jesus, God's son, I was immediately reminded of Kim Jong-il. The word 'repentance' also reminded me of 'self-criticism' in the communist country. The donation money seemed like 'Communist Party membership fees'." Kim didn't know that communism and Christianity had so many things in common.

Kim has been a pastor for 13 years. So far, he has preached at some 3,000 churches in South Korea, and 180 churches in the US, Canada and Australia, giving testimonials of his life and sharing his faith.

Kim said he hopes to help North Koreans know about God. Now a grandfather of two with a stable life, he said: "I also want to let North Korean defectors know that South Korea is a country where you can succeed if you work hard."

Still, he continues to harbor strong opinions about Kim Jong-il. "Kim Jong-il is the same age as me. Kim Jong-il must give up the idea of communizing South Korea. It's a failed cause. All human beings make mistakes. He should open up North Korea to the outside world. It's the call of our times. It requires a big decision. We don't necessarily aim to overthrow the North Korean regime. It will be done naturally because [North Korean] people don't want to be caged. They want freedom."

Kim believes that foreign aid to North Korea has its limitations and that true change should come from inside. For example, he suggested that North Korea send talented people to the South to receive education and then return to improve North Korea's society. Kim said the North should even consider sending young people to study in the US. "China did it, too," he said.

Kim said some day he wants to visit his hometown in North Korea. "If you leave your home in the morning it's a very human feeling to go back home at night. I've been living my life with a deep guilt for my family and relatives," the soft-spoken Kim said.

Yet Kim believes that having too much expectation can drain one's emotion and that it may take some time for his wish to come true. "I see the possibility. It will come some day. Jesus taught us to be patient."

Sunny Lee is a writer. A native of South Korea, Lee is a graduate of Harvard University and Beijing Foreign Studies University. He can be reached at boston.sunny@gmail.com

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