My pastor's story of survival ...

A number of the stories that I have posted to this neighborhood have been about people from a specific faith, including the wonderful story about Imam Haitham Bundakji and the beautiful one about the lady who encountered an angel at midnight mass in her church.  For a long time I have wanted to share a story concerning my own pastor, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, as well.  However I hesitated to do so out of worry that some readers might feel I was going too far in promoting my own particular faith.  Sadly, the result has been that readers have missed an account of a very moving and amazing life.

I’ve finally decided to go ahead and share an account based on my pastor’s life, believing that most people will understand, and not be offended.  Please, if you make the choice to read the following account, just keep in mind that in posting it, I am emphatically Not insisting that you agree with his theology.

I am vividly aware that for most people, my pastor’s assertion of having received a messianic mission directly from Jesus is truly hard to believe!  How could anyone easily accept this idea, unless they had received some experience in which they felt that God had directly confirmed for them that it is true?

The only thing that I would like to ask is that you try to understand that my pastor believes this.  He is absolutely, utterly, one hundred percent sincere in his belief that he received a crucial mission from Jesus.

The fact is, I feel certain that only God’s grace and the strength of my pastor’s sincerity allowed him to accomplish all that he has in his ninety-plus years, and to endure and overcome all that he has faced in that time.

To give just a brief example, I’d like to ask you to imagine yourself in my pastor’s shoes.  Imagine yourself as a preacher in 1946 in Pyeongyang, North Korea just after the end of World War II.  You have a small, growing congregation that is trying to survive in a country that has been taken over by a Soviet-style communist government, one that is dangerously hostile to any form of religion.  One day the authorities come and arrest you for teaching about God.  In the basement of one of the local police stations, they beat you repeatedly for days.

After beatings with a metal rod (wrapped in rags so as to cause damage to, and bleeding from organs within the body) you pass out and fail to regain consciousness.  The police, convinced that you are dead, throw your body out in the snow, in an ally at the back of the police station.

Your friends come to take away your body for burial.  One of them detects a faint sign of breath, and they realize that you are still clinging to life.  They take you home and nurse you back to health over months. 

When you are finally able to walk again, all your friends – everyone who loves you – beg you to escape.  They remind you that you are a marked man and that it is almost certain that if you go back to preaching, you will be arrested again and probably killed.  They point to the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who have already fled the country across the still-open border into South Korea. 

Imagine yourself thanking your friends for their love and concern, but telling them that you are certain God still needs you in the North.  You go back to preaching.  How many of us could have made this decision, knowing what the consequences would be?  Within months, you are arrested again, and this time you are tried and sentenced to five years in a labor camp, a death camp called Heungnam, in a far northeastern part of the country near the Chinese border.  If it had been you or me, how would we have found the resources to survive a Soviet-style death camp?

My pastor has said that at Heungnam, the authorities worked the prisoners so hard and fed them so little, that the average span of life there was around six months. Each day, the prisoners were given only one bowl of soup that consisted of salty water and radish leaves, and two meager bowls of rice or barley.  The men at Heungnam were so hungry and so desperate for food, that if someone dropped even a few grains of rice on the floor of the mess hall, prisoners would fight over the grains on the floor.  If, as sometimes happened, a prisoner died while eating, other men would rush over and put their fingers in the dead man’s mouth in hopes of scooping out any un-swallowed grains of rice.

Reverend Moon says he realized that if he allowed himself to become as desperate for food as most of the other prisoners were, he would surely die in this camp.  Therefore he determined to overcome the desire for food, as much as humanly possible.  He disciplined himself for two weeks, to eat only half of the rice given him.  Each day he divided his portion into two halves and gave one half to another starving prisoner.  Then he would eat the remaining portion.  When the two weeks had passed, he began eating the entire amount of rice given him.  He told himself that he was eating enough for two men, and that the “extra” half of his rice was a gift from God.

Reverend Moon survived Heungnam for two years and eight months.  On October 14, 1950, United Nations forces liberated the camp. My pastor, along with some other prisoners who had survived the months of cold, starvation, illness and executions, walked out as free men.

Along with two friends, he walked for most of the way from Heungnam to Pusan, on the southern coast of South Korea.  He arrived with virtually nothing, except a tremendous love for God, and for people.

Now let’s fast-forward over forty years.  In 1991 my pastor saw an opportunity to return to his homeland for the first since he had crossed the border during the chaos of the Korean War.  He traveled to Pyeongyang with his wife and two aides, as a guest of the North Korean government.  He wanted to meet the country’s leader, Kim Il Sung, in order to try to persuade him to abandon his country’s nuclear ambitions and to pursue policies that could lead to peace, and the reconciliation of North and South Korea.

There was no guarantee that he would actually be able to meet with Kim.  After all, Kim was the head of one of the strictest Stalinist states in the world, and Reverend Moon was known as one of the world’s most determined and passionate anti-communists.  The way that this meeting became possible is another fascinating story.  But they did indeed meet, and my pastor greeted Kim with a hug, like a long-lost brother.  They discussed the future of the two Koreas, including the crucial nuclear issue as well as the desirability of arranging inter-cultural exchanges and meetings between members of divided families, in order to make progress towards peace.

After the meeting was concluded, one of Reverend Moon’s aides, Dr. Bo Hi Pak, asked him why he had been willing to meet with a leader whose government had caused so much suffering to him and his family in the past.  He replied: “I met him with a parent’s heart. In true love, there is no such concept as ‘enemy.’”  He had gone to meet Kim determined to honor one of the most challenging instructions of Jesus: “Love your enemy.”

I have barely sketched out a few details here of a really amazing and moving story.  If anyone would like to take an open-minded look at my pastor’s life, an autobiographical book about him should be coming out in English translation before long.  It is entitled, “As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen,” and I recommend it very highly.

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Clark Eberly

Born in Lafayette, Indiana and I grew up mostly in the northern part of Texas. From 1982 to 2009, I worked as a research librarian at the Washington Times. Most important, I'm married to Silvia, my best friend. We have a son, Brian, and a daughter, Sonja, both of whom are a great blessing.


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