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