Onlookers must have wondered if Elijah was blind.
There he stood, only yards from the throne of the wicked King Ahab. The devious Queen Jezebel narrowed her eyes at him from behind the throne. Couldn’t he see them?
Elijah saw more.
He saw the Throne above the throne.
So, as if he were the only human being in the room, he said, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand…” (I Kings 17:1)
Next to Elijah’s God, Ahab was Nobody.
What does it take to never fear a Nobody?
North Korea’s Gods
Jump ahead to the mid-1900s, further east than ancient Israel.
In North Korea, a woman named Hae Woo is dutifully worshiping Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung as a god. Hae Woo’s god provided food, education, and protection from those terrible Christians with their blood-sucking, brainwashing ways. Hae Woo’s god was ever-vigilant; he never needed to eat or sleep. What a good god was Kim Il Sung!
Her mother’s hints that the Supreme Leader was human fell on deaf ears. But Hae Woo’s sharp eyes noticed how her mother encouraged the women she served as midwife. And how she assured widows that “heaven is taking care of you.” And wasn’t that a cross on the necklace that once slipped out from under Mother’s shirt? Mother was a mysterious woman with strange compassion.
By the time famine ravaged North Korea in the 1990s, the adult Hae Woo had lost one husband to a camp for political prisoners, and one daughter to starvation. The Supreme Leader was unable to help them. Hae Woo’s second husband decided to risk fleeing into China. From there, he would arrange to bring his family with him to South Korea.
A Strange Thing Happened on the Way to Prison
In China, her husband met up with some Christians. These people did not suck his blood or brainwash him. Instead they sheltered him, provided for him—at their own risk—and told him about the God of the Bible.
Their stories brought back memories of his grandfather, killed by Kim Il Sung’s soldiers. His dying words were, “Forgive, forgive.” It was clear now: he, too, had been a Christian. Hae Woo’s husband soon became a Christian himself.
Unfortunately, he was caught and deported to North Korea. Thrown into prison, he lived only 6 months.
Hae Woo learned of all this when some of his fellow prisoners came to visit her after their release. Her husband had been kind to them, they said. He was so different from others. He often wept and prayed. And he told them how Jesus Christ could save them.
Hae Woo couldn’t understand. What would make him behave like this? Behave . . . just like her mother? Unless. . .
Like the parting of clouds, Hae Woo says,
“after I had heard the testimony of these men, I suddenly realized that Kim Il Sung was not a god. I had lived my whole life on the basis of a lie!”
Hae Woo wanted to know the God of her husband and mother. She had to get away.
With difficulty, she crossed the border into China. She sought out a Korean Christian church, where she received help. Most importantly she finally heard the truth she’d been seeking. When she learned about Jesus Christ, she says, “I was overwhelmed by God’s love.”
Now she knew: she lived her life before the true God. All other rulers became Nobody.
Hae Woo immediately began telling both Koreans and Chinese about Jesus Christ and His love for them. She studied and copied out long portions of Scripture, learning all she could in the time she had.
It wasn’t long.
Like her husband, Hae Woo was discovered, deported, and imprisoned. When the guards heard she had been talking about Christ, she was beaten mercilessly. Hae Woo nearly despaired when God did not intervene.
Until He did.
Tossed into a cell with 12 other prisoners, she felt alone, abandoned. Then she heard an audible voice:
“’My beloved daughter! You’re walking on water!’
She recognized that voice.
It was the Lord, before whom she stood. She was not alone, after all.
What Hae Woo Saw
Transferred to another camp, Hae Woo saw fifty women sleeping on thin mattresses, elbow to elbow. She saw hard labor, scanty food, and mandatory “re-education.” She saw people dying daily, their ashes later scattered on the path all prisoners walked.
But Hae Woo saw more. She saw the King before whom she stood.
He was calling her to tell these people on the brink of death just how much He loved them. Right in front of the Nobodies who could have her killed.
At first people thought she was odd because she shared her meager food with the sick or washed others’ clothes. But hope sprang into their eyes when she told them, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
Ultimately, five people trusted in Christ. They were a church of six. A church that met in the pit latrine, a place so foul the guards avoided it. They recited Bible verses and sang quietly before returning to their labors.
When the North Korean government considered Hae Woo’s re-education complete, she was released from prison. Eventually she escaped to South Korea, joining her three remaining children.
Her first taste of freedom? No, it wasn’t. She says, “I learned what freedom is in the camp.”
Freedom, for Hae Woo, is to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. Freedom is knowing that the Lord, before whom she stands, prepares a table before her in the presence of her enemies (Psalm 23).
Freedom is knowing, as Hae Woo puts it, “the situation in which I find myself doesn’t say anything about who Jesus is.”
Instead, who Jesus is says everything about the situation in which she finds herself.
Is there a Nobody blocking your view of the Lord before whom you stand?
What freedom would you experience if you took your eyes off Nobody
and fixed them on God alone?
Read more of Hae Woo’s story in Jan Vermeer’s book, Why Do You Persecute Me? True Stories From the Persecuted Church published by Open Doors USA.
The following video may help you reflect on what you can learn from Hae Woo.