Hope: The Story of an Escapee from North Korea

September 29, 2016

The very first thing I can remember in my life is an execution. I recall a silent crowd. I remember walking through the fields with my mother; even now I can feel the callused skin of her hand. The moment we arrived to the crowd, I crawled up to the front. To my horror, I watched as a man received three shots to the chest. Shin Hoyn Duyk was four years old, and in a North Korean punishment camp for a crime committed by his grandfather.

There is a device that exists. So powerful, it can revitalize Shin, a little boy who has seen and felt horrible things beyond our imagination. This thing can compel a man to survive one hundred and thirty three days at sea. It cannot be bought in stores. It cannot be mustered. This device is hope. It is a gift, which is given to us by God. The purpose of this speech is to persuade you to view this device as vital and therefore be a part of sharing it to this hurting world that we live in. Hope as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary is  “to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true.”  I hope that the world will not only want their dreams to come true, but also believe that they can. My first point will demonstrate the problem of hopelessness that we have in the world. Then I will illustrate my second point through explaining a solution.

Shin, imprisoned in North Korea, found that hope is an agent that can change lives while he was living in a prison camp. The camp within which Shin was imprisoned was called an irredeemable camp, where inmates were worked to death. Kim Il Sung, leader of North Korea commanded in 1972, “[E]nemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations.” (Harden 6) The camps are where the four generations are worked to death. Shin’s grandfather had fled North Korea, so Shins parents were sentenced to the prison where Shin was born. The inhumanity that was Shins life will shock you. The following is from the Korean Bar Association in Sol when depicting the daily life of inmates at the camp in which Shin resided.

A few prisoners are publicly executed every year. Others are beaten to death or secretly murdered by guards, who have almost complete license to abuse and rape prisoners. Most prisoners tend crops, mine coal, so military uniforms, or make cement while subsisting on a near starvation diet of corn, cabbage, and salt. They lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken, and, as they enter their forties, they hunch over at the waist. Issued a set of clothes once or twice a year, they commonly work and sleep in filthy rags, living without soap, socks, gloves, underclothes, or toilet paper. Twelve to fifteen hour work days are mandatory until prisoners die, usually of malnutrition related illnesses before they turn fifty.” (Harden 5-6)

The mental and physical implications of a life like this are enumerable. How can the guards control a rabble of wrongdoers and criminals living in obscene conditions? From an early age the hope is knocked out of each and every inmate. To them, the idea that there is a place where people had all the food they wanted and all the freedom they desired was as foreign as me telling you that there is a city where people can fly. The prisoners didn’t know that there was a life outside of the camp, they didn’t know about china or South Korea or anything. They had no hope for anything. This lack of hope leads to despair. These men and women accept that they will never get out. They resolve that the only choices are 1) suicide or 2) submit themselves to the terrible misery of living in the camp. It is the definition a hopeless situation.

Ecclesiastes 1:14 says  “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (English standard Version Ecc 1:14) Solomon is expressing hopelessness. No matter what he does, all is vanity and a striving after the wind. He looks at the world in its hopelessness and sees that all is a vapor. I come from a large family, and as my mom is trying to homeschool six kids, she is experiencing some of the vanity that Ecclesiastes expresses. She feels like dishes are only going to get dirty again, the kids clothes are only going to get filthy again, and the kids will only be naughty again. In the world we live in, it is easy to feel hopeless knowing that whatever you do there is only going to be more. A lack of hope is something all men feel to one degree or another from time to time.

Now that I have shown you the need for hope in the world I would like to point to a solution. Hope can make a difference and we all can be a part of making that change. But hope isn’t something that can be mustered; it has to be received from an outside host. Shin eventually escaped from the camp, but only after a new inmate shared with him the idea of hope. This new inmate, Park, showed him that life in camp was not the only life possible, that he could have a better future. A few months after hope was shared with him, Shin sought escape. Their chance came the day after New Year. Their group had to trim the branches of a patch of forest. A pair of guards appeared on patrol sporadically but the spaces between the patrols were noticeable. They made themselves wait until the cover of darkness. When this point came, they ran to the fence. Shin was supposed to be in the lead but he slipped on a patch of ice. Only later would he attribute this action as an act of God’s providence and grace. As soon as Park reached the fence he began to crawl through. At what time that Shin got up from his spill, he began running to the highly electric fence only to see, to his horror, his partner had become wedged between the wires, his body wracked with the voltage. Shin felt for Park’s pulse, found none and proceeded to clamber over his dead friend, using Park to shield him from the deadly electricity. Shin used the person who had given him hope, as a bridge to cross the fence. Just as Jesus gives us an imaginary bridge from us to God, Shin uses Park as a literal bridge across the pulse of the electric fence.  “Hope is a waking dream.” This quote from Aristotle embodies what Shin felt at the time of his escape. Park was an agent of hope to Shin. I want all Christians to be agents of hope because we know of a better possible future.


“A recent study found hope to be a change mechanism in a group of 146 veterans diagnosed with PTSD who were enrolled in a 6 week residential cognitive processing treatment program. In this treatment, hope was not targeted but was measured at the beginning, middle and end of treatment by the Synder Hope Scale.  The findings indicate that having a higher level of hope coming into and during treatment was associated with PTSD-depression symptom reduction.” 

This study by the Suffolk County Psychological Association shows that even in the world of science, hope can make a difference. Every single person can be a giver of hope. When your co-worker is sick, encourage them by letting them know you will be praying to a God that heals. When you’re doing to the laundry for the fiftieth time, realize that the clean clothes on those kids will make them feel loved allowing them to lead a life of love. People can always run faster when they see the finish line, and hope is seeing the finish line Do you ever diet without hope of losing weight? Do you ever pray without hope of receiving guidance? Hope gives you the energy and stamina that you need to do hard things and to finish the race of life.

But hope is not mustered but rather received by an external source. The most lasting hope we can share is that which God alone can offer. God creates hope but it needs to be verbally spread by man. Therefore God became man so we all can receive the greatest gift of hope possible. Hope that just as Shin escaped his prison, we too can escape the chains of sin and death. Just as Shin was encouraged by the hope of a better future we have a promise of a better eternity. Shin is living a life he never dreamed existed because of the hope that was given to him. We are not living in a North Korean prison camp but our North American need for hope is just as acute. Whether it be the iron chains of literal slavery or be the golden chains of great material wealth, people need to be given hope for freedom. Hope makes a difference, and I urge you, Be that difference in someone’s life today.

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