From torturing to tears: A prison warden repents
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom repeatedly has recommended that the U.S. Department of State list North Korea as among its "countries of particular concern" for its "egregious and systematic human rights violations" including policies that disallow any Christian faith. So one can imagine how startled a Christian couple was when a commander from a detention camp set up for those who cannot eliminate their faith in Christ appeared in front of their house and knocked on their door.
The report of the startling transformation of the guard, from tyrant and torturer to tearful repentant, comes from The Voice of the Martyrs, a worldwide ministry that directs its aid to members of the persecuted Christian church. Although accurate reports are difficult to obtain, often because no witnesses to atrocities are left alive to tell, officials believe tens of thousands of Christians currently are suffering in North Korean prison camps for the offense of having a Christian faith. The events developed shortly after a Christian teen died in a prison camp after being deprived of food but unwilling to recant his belief in Christ, the VOM report said.
A Christian couple found themselves sentenced to the same camp, with the same prospects for extended lives as the faithful Christian teen who died before his 20th birthday. However, "they were there only a few days when the camp's top officer, 'Rhee', ordered their release", VOM reported.
A few days later, they heard the knocking at their door. "It was Rhee. He wanted to talk to them further. 'I have tortured and killed many people', he told them, 'but since the death of this young man I have been troubled'", said the VOM report, written by P. Todd Nettleton. Rhee also told them the story of the teen's courage and cheerful attitude, even as his body was failing.
They told the prison warden why the teen, code-named "Pencil" before he was dispatched into North Korea to spread the Gospel of Jesus, was different. They introduced him to Jesus. "When they finished sharing and praying together, Rhee invited them to come home with him", the report said. "Inside Rhee's large home, eight family members were gathered as well as several other soldiers who worked at the camp and their families".
The report said the families listened as the couple presented the story of Jesus, his death on the cross and his resurrection. "Rhee was shocked when his own mother stepped forward and said for 50 years she had been a secret Christian. 'I am no longer ashamed of my faith', she said, then turned to the rest of the people gathered in the room. 'Who wants to have Jesus in their heart?'" the report said. All hands were raised and a baptismal service followed immediately, VOM reported.
VOM is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity. He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, "Tortured for Christ", was released.