Early in my career as a freelance writer, one of my editors approached me with an assignment: Read an old out-of-print biography of a Korean Christian woman who had an interesting testimony and turn it into an article for the magazine.
It’s been a long time, and to be honest, right at this moment I can’t remember her name.* But I’ve never forgotten her story.
At the time I didn’t know anything, really, about the Japanese occupation of Korea from the early 1900s through World War II — but I soon learned it ranked right up there with the most horrific human rights abuses in history, including persecution, torture, slavery, and prison camps.
The young woman whose story I was to tell became a leader in the underground Christian community in Korea while still in her teens — which made her a target of the Japanese government. Word came that in the coming months, she would be arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to years of hard labor and/or execution at a prison camp.
What would you do, if that word came to you?
What would I do? I wondered.
Having watched a few too many spy thrillers on TV, I started thinking how I could disguise myself and go on the run, where I could hide, how I could live as a fugitive –and how God might help me, of course. He hid people in Scripture, didn’t He?
Then I started thinking about the times God called people to pray and how He miraculously moved the hearts of kings and government officials. So maybe I’d call all my friends and family and the community of faith to pray for me…
The Korean woman did do that, but not the way you’d think. She asked them to start praying for her strength and endurance, that when she was tested, she wouldn’t fail.
And then she started to prepare herself for testing — for being imprisoned and tortured and pressured to deny her faith — by practicing “denying her flesh.”
Her thought was “If I’m so weak spiritually that I can’t resist temptation now, how will I resist it when I’m under enormous stress?”
She fasted for days on end, when she didn’t have to — so that she’d know what it was like to go without food, and she could tell her body: “You’re not going to die, because you miss a meal or two!”
She slept on the floor without a blanket, instead of in her warm, comfortable bed, so that the cold prison cell wouldn’t be such a shock to her system. She memorized Scripture night and day, so that she would have it access to it always — even when her Bible was taken from her.
She put herself into strict training so that she could better endure suffering and persecution. And endure, she did.
I’m still in awe of her attitude. And as I said, her story has stayed with me.
I like to think I would stand strong for Jesus in something big (and honestly big things are sometimes easier — if only because their significance is more obvious)… but what if one day I go to stand when it counts, and my legs have lost their strength? From all the sitting I’ve been doing on the little things?
This is something I’ve been talking to Jesus about, as I read the headlines — both the increasing hostility toward Christians in our country and the outright persecution of believers around the world — and feel so helpless.
There are some people who are being called to drop everything and go! Serve! Give! In really big, dramatic ways. And some who have much bigger platforms, from which to sound the call.
But what about those of us who can’t go? Who have relatively little to give? Whose voices seem small? What can we do as the world falls apart around us?
I know we can pray. We can always pray. For those suffering and those on the front lines fighting, defending, protecting those in desperate need. And Scripture is clear: Prayer changes things. It really does make a difference!
And we can give. Give what we have. Give out of our need, if need be. Give our love, our service, our time, our talents, our creativity, our energy. Give in ordinary ways that free others to give in extraordinary ways. If we don’t know how or where to give, we can pray and ask God to show us. He will.
But here’s where the story of the Korean Christian woman comes in: We can also practice standing strong in our own battles here and now. In our battles against depression and discouragement. In our battles against temptation. In our battles against the flesh — against the attitudes and behaviors that bring dishonor to the name of Christ.
Honestly, I’m not suggesting that we start starving ourselves or sleeping on the floor! But that we renew our commitment to lead “holy and godly lives as (we) look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11-12; See also Romans 12) Loving our neighbors, ministering to those in need in our own communities, ministering to our coworkers, our friends, our families. Giving and forgiving.
Instead of fretting over battles being fought by others, we can focus on winning the ones we’re actually in. We can be faithful in the position He’s put us. Then if He should call us to a different front, to an even bigger battle, we’ll be ready!
Above all, we can love Jesus passionately and rejoice fervently! This world is not our home, and it was never meant to be. Slowly but surely, our attachment to it is weakening. We can enjoy the splashes of beauty we find in it, the glimpses of glory. But we’re beginning to remember where our true hope lies. We’re learning to keep our eyes on the skies… And that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:11 NIV)
* I’ve since looked up the Korean woman’s name… Esther Ahn Kim. Her biography was re-released by Moody and is available here.