Meet Young Sook, a North Korean whose life began in 1951 in a Chinese village, where she was born into a poor Korean family. It nearly ended 46 years later in a North Korean prison. Her extraordinary life story is both tragic and triumphant; but she is a living testament to the power of prayer…
When Yong Sook was seven, her family decided to move back to North Korea. ‘Victory belonged to socialism,’ said the government, and Koreans in China and Japan were being urged to ‘come home’. So they moved to Pyongyang.
In 1964, a man came to their house. He told her father and grandfather about an illegal secret Christian network and how they needed to sign up if they wanted to be saved. The two men argued about it. But in the end her grandfather won.
Three years later five police agents barged into the house, looking for people who’d signed the list. Her father and grandfather were taken away. Her grandfather was soon released. “He lied and blamed everything on my father,” Yong Sook says. “The police believed him and he could go home.” Her father, however, spent six months in prison. Then, one day, he was called to the prison courtyard with around 140 other people – all members of the Christian network. Her father denied that he was a Christian, as did about half of the prisoners. They were allowed to leave. The others, it is believed, probably died in prison.
Her father turned up suddenly one day at his house in Pyongyang. “We were all so shocked to see him. He was skin over bone. We could just see his skeleton… more dead than alive. He never spoke about his experience but he returned a different man, depressed and silent.”
His return also changed Yong Sook’s grandfather. “From the day he saw his son again, he did not speak any more. Not a single word. He felt so guilty, that even looking at my father was impossible for him.”
This 83-year-old man never overcame his remorse for betraying his son. But Yong Sook remembers him as the man who encouraged her to believe in God. “Now I am grateful for the man he was,” she says. “I am convinced that he prayed a lot for us. My faith is the result of that prayer.”
It was to be many years before Yong Sook discovered the grace of God and the safety of His love. After the death of ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il-Sung in 1994, the economy collapsed. To avoid starvation, Yong Sook’s family and neighbours fled to China – but at the border they were arrested and imprisoned.
There Yong Sook was separated from her husband and son. Incarcerated in the most inhumane conditions, she and her neighbour experienced interrogation, illness and torture. “You cannot imagine the fear of being in that prison,” she says.
Yong Sook began to pray, first to her mother, then her father, then her grandfathers. “Then I asked myself: Who is the most powerful person I can pray to? I came to the conclusion it was God. So I prayed for Him to release me. I still was not a believer, but I firmly believe that thanks to those remarkable prayers in that dark prison cell I have been blessed so much ever since.”
God did answer her prayers but it was no easy road to happiness. Now in South Korea, reunited with her family, she says she knows “God brought me here.”
Meet Yong Sook in person and hear more of her fascinating story at our series of events celebrating our 60th anniversary. Head along to The Greatest Adventure in Birmingham on 14 November, or at Secret Christians and Smuggled Hope in Glasgow on 20 November.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.