‘I finally met my Lord’

Published 9:07 pm Thursday, May 3, 2018

The 34th annual Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast featured the remarkable story of one man’s journey out of North Korea and how he later found true freedom in Jesus Christ.

Proudly brandishing the same homemade crutches that aided him in his escape from his native land, Ji Seong-Ho shared his testimony with hundreds who gathered for the event at the Suffolk National Guard Armory, coinciding with the National Day of Prayer.

“God said to me, ‘Do everything to save the people who are still in the situation you once were,’” Ji said. He has started an organization, Now Action Unity for Human Rights, to do just that.

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Ji’s words were translated by the Rev. David Ryu, a native of South Korea who is now senior pastor at Charity United Methodist Church in Virginia Beach.

The audience was hushed during Ji’s timely appearance, save for several standing ovations.

Ji, who turns 36 this year, recalled his upbringing under the totalitarian regime.

“As I was growing up, I was taught that North Korea was heaven and that we lived in the most beautiful nation ever,” he said. “They taught us that the United States and all the other countries in the world were enemies and were out to get us. We were taught the North Korean leader was god and the god everyone else worshipped was the enemy.”

Though the North Korean propaganda machine told citizens there was plenty of food, starvation was rampant.

“My grandmother passed away because she was starving to death,” Ji said. “I witnessed that myself. I was so hungry I couldn’t even go to school.”

Soldiers frequently struck children on the head with rifles. Anyone caught praying or holding a Bible would be persecuted and executed, Ji said. The same fate befell anyone who tried to escape, and people’s families were even sent to labor camps if they were caught doing any of these things.

“We want to ask the question to say, ‘Why do we have to live like this?’” Ji said. “We can’t say that there’s nothing to eat here, we’re starving to death. We want to share with our leader that we need some change. But you can’t say those words.” And there is no way to communicate with the outside world, Ji added.

When he was 14, Ji’s life changed forever. He was at a railyard collecting coal to barter for food when he passed out from hunger. When he awoke, a train had run over him, severing his left limbs. He cried out for his family, and his sister found him.

“I felt like I was at the gates of hell,” he said. He was finally taken to a hospital and to surgery to complete the amputations of his leg and arm. There were no pain medications, no blood transfusions and no anesthesia.

“I remember the saw cutting through my bone,” he said. “This is when I lost consciousness.”

He continued to go in and out of consciousness throughout the surgery.

“A few days later, they just asked me to go home,” he said.

Enduring the pain during his recovery was terrible, but he eventually got through it. Many in his life believed they had witnessed a miracle.

“Everybody thought it was not by human strength but by the grace of God,” he said. “I truly believed God’s perfect will was being done in my life.”

However, Ji did not truly believe until he escaped to China by swimming the Tumen River, which marks part of the border between the two countries. In China, he met people who were involved in the underground church.

“It was there that I finally met my Lord,” he said. “They connected me to Him, and they prayed for me.”

Eventually, Ji attempted to return to North Korea with food for his family. He was caught and beaten.

“They said, ‘You’re a cripple; you must die,’” Ji said. “Because I was taught the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, all I could do was repeat them and cry out to God.”

He escaped the torture and learned his mother and sister had fallen into the hands of human traffickers. He and his brother decided to attempt an escape; his father died in a labor camp in 2006.

After successfully making it back to China, Ji made the 6,000-mile trek to Thailand and from there was allowed to travel to South Korea, where he now lives. He was reunited with his family there, including his mother and sister.

Ji urged those at the prayer breakfast to pray for the reunification of Korea; and also, “please pray that the North Korean people will understand and know the love of God so they can find freedom in Him as well,” he said.

Attendees at the breakfast also enjoyed musical selections from recording artist Letha Holland-Deel, including one that featured a surprise guest vocalist, state Sen. John Cosgrove.

Prayers were offered for families, the city, state, nation and world by Virginia Supreme Court Justice D. Arthur Kelsey, a Suffolk native, and his son, Mark Kelsey. Readings from Scripture were given, and greetings from the military came from U.S. Navy Capt. Cameron H. Fish and U.S. Army National Guard Lt. Col. Timothy D. Pillion.

Rita W. Beale of Child Evangelism Fellowship stressed the importance of small groups, including Good News Clubs in local public schools.

Bringing greetings from the city, Mayor Linda T. Johnson emphasized the power of prayer.

“We’re here today because we know the importance of prayer to our nation,” she said. “Prayer is not just a wish list; prayer is truly asking for God’s will to be done.”