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Mar18WedA simple piano started my journey to freedom, faith and The Salvation Army. March 18, 2015 by Michelle Jang
As the person in charge of the website at the Salvation Army's Yorkwoods Community Church in Toronto, I have always had a fondness for music—but the piano holds a particular fascination for me. While it is a delight to listen to a skilled pianist at work, I love the piano because it started me on the road to becoming a Christian.
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Journey to China
I was born in Hamhung, the second-largest city in North Korea. My father was a soldier and my mother was a housewife. Our family was provided with everything we needed by the government because my father was in the military, so we lived well.
However, famine ravaged our nation from 1997 to 1999, killing almost three million people. Bodies lay in the streets for days, with nobody to tend to them. At the time, and even now, I couldn't understand why so many people had to die. I myself fell ill, my parents nursing me back to health, but there was no guarantee that things would get better.
Eventually, my father, too, fell ill, and we decided I needed to travel to neighbouring China, where my mother had relatives. We'd been told there was enough to eat there, and I'd be able to purchase medicine for my father and food for my parents.
I escaped North Korea in April 1999. Unfortunately, my father died while I was in transit, and I never saw my hometown again.
A New World
I'd always thought that North Korea was the best nation in the world. Once in China, though, I realized that it was the most miserable place. In North Korea, if someone referred to leaders Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il directly by name, that was reason enough to execute them. But in China, people were outspoken in their criticism of them as dictators. I was also surprised to learn that the Chinese could even criticize their own leaders freely. I realized what freedom of speech was for the first time in my life.
The concept of a salary and spending money were also new. I worked 19 hours a day at a small restaurant. It was gruelling but I received an honest pay for my work. In North Korea, a monthly wage was only enough to buy one kilogram of rice. In China, I could buy a hundred times that amount for the same salary. It was an amazing realization.
The Greatest Love
I eventually found work as an education company's math teacher. Of course, I couldn't say I came from North Korea. However much I savoured my newfound freedom, I wasalways in danger because the government did not recognize North Koreans as refugees. If I had been arrested and repatriated to North Korea, I could have been jailed or executed. I was completely alone. I had to hide my identity, and I couldn't trust anybody.
At work, I met the mother of one of my students, who was a university professor. One day, she invited me to her apartment. I was nervous—What if she found out about me?—but I accepted her invitation.
I needn't have worried. Instead of asking about me, she told me all about herself, how she came to China and her life there.
When we finished lunch, she showed me where she lived, and in her apartment was a piano. I never had seen anything so beautiful. Out of curiosity, I asked her to play something. The lyrics went like this:
You are created to receive the greatest love;
You experience this love in every portion of your life.
From the beginning God has shown His love to bless you.
As we greet and bless each other there is fruit of love;
Because you are with us we experience tremendous joy.
Let us come before our God with thanksgiving in our hearts.
As I listened, tears came to my eyes. Somebody loves me? Really? I always thought I was completely alone. Nobody ever asked me, “How are you?” No one here cared if I lived or died.
It was then I knew that the greatest love was from God.
From then on, I started to study the Bible with the professor and, with her guidance, I became a Christian.
From Hell to Heaven
After four years, I managed to escape to South Korea. It was an amazing experience to see the beauty and wealth of the other half of my homeland. I studied at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea, and I began working as a reporter for the Korean branch of Radio Free Asia.
In 2011, I had an opportunity to travel to Toronto through the NGO contacts I had made over the seven years I had been in China and South Korea. While I was there, Radio Free Asia asked me if I would be their Canadian correspondent. I jumped at the chance. I'd fallen in love with Canada and Canadian values.
In 2012, I met Thomas Yoo, a Salvation Army pastor who worked as an intercultural-ministries officer in Ottawa. I knew he was helping many North Koreans who lived in Toronto, and I was impressed with his devotion. We soon became friends.
When he was appointed pastor at Yorkwoods Community Church, I attended his first service there, and I blended in with the congregation, which came from so many diverse backgrounds. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and I eventually became an official member of The Salvation Army.
God changed my life completely. He led me from the most miserable place in the world to the best place in the world, as if I had left hell in North Korea and entered heaven here in Canada. And He led me to The Salvation Army.