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Between Fear and Inspiration


As I grew older and more mature, I became preoccupied with the question, "What will I be when I grow up?" I enjoyed observing and studying nature, so I gave some thought to

becoming a scientist, but I changed my mind after I saw the tragedy of how people plundered by the Japanese colonial authorities suffered so much that they could not even feed themselves. It didn't seem that becoming a scientist, even if it led to my winning a Nobel Prize, would be a way for me to wipe away the tears of the people who needed to be clothed and fed.

I wanted to become a person who would wipe away the tears that flowed from people's eyes and take away the sorrow that was in their hearts. When I was lying in the forest listening to the songs of the birds, I would think, "The world needs to be made as warm and tender as those songs. I should become someone who makes people's faces become as fragrant as flowers." I didn't know what career I should pursue to accomplish that, but I became convinced that I should be a person who would give happiness to people.

When I was ten, our family converted to Christianity by the grace of Granduncle Yun Guk, who was a minister and led a fervent life of faith.

From that time, I attended church faithfully, without ever missing a week. If I arrived at service even a little late, I would be so ashamed that I could not even raise my face. I don't know what I could have understood at such a young age to inspire me to be this way, but God was already a huge presence in my life. I was spending more and more time wrestling with questions dealing with life and death, and the suffering and sorrows of the human existence.

When I was twelve, I witnessed my great grandfather's grave being moved to a new location. Normally, only the adults in the clan would be allowed to attend such an occasion, but I wanted very much to see for myself what happened to people after they died. So with great effort I managed to have myself taken along. When the grave was dug up and I saw the remains being removed, I was overcome with sudden shock and fear. When the adults opened the grave with solemn ceremony, what came into my eyes was nothing more than a scraggy skeleton. There was no trace of the features of my great grandfather that my father and mother had described to me. There was only the hideous sight of white bones.

It took me a while to get over the shock of seeing my great grandfather's bones. I said to myself, "Great Grandfather must have looked just like us. Does this mean my parents, too, will turn into just a bunch of white bones after they die? Is this what will happen to me when I die? Everyone dies, but after we die, do we just lie there unable to think about anything?" I couldn't get these questions out of my head.

Around that time, there were a number of strange events in our home.

I have a vivid memory of one in particular. Each time our family wove cloth, we would take the snippets of thread from the spinning wheel and save them in a earthenware jar. We would save up these snippets until we had enough to make a bolt of cloth. The cloth we made from these snippets, called yejang, was a special cloth used when a child of the family was getting married. One night, these snippets were found scattered all over the branches of an old chestnut tree in a neighboring village so that the tree looked as if it had turned white. We couldn't understand who would have taken the snippets from the jar, carried them all the way to the chestnut tree that was quite a distance from our home, and then spread them all over the tree. It didn't seem like something done by human hands, and everyone in the village became very afraid.

When I was sixteen, we experienced the tragedy of having five of my younger siblings die in a single year. No words could describe the heartbreak of our parents in losing five of their thirteen children in such a short time. This series of distressing events began in our home, but spread to other homes in the dan. One homes cow suddenly died, though it had been in perfect health. At another home, several horses died, one after another. At a third home, seven pigs died in one night.

The suffering of one family seemed connected to the suffering of the nation, and of the world. I was increasingly troubled to see the wretched situation of the Korean people under Japan's increasingly villainous tyrannical rule. People didn't have enough to eat. They were sometimes forced to take grass, tree bark, and whatever else they could find, and boil these to eat. There seemed to be no end to wars around the world. Then one day, I read an article in a newspaper about the suicide of a middle school student who was the same age as me.

"Why did he die?" I asked myself. "What could have driven a person to death at such a young age?" I was devastated by this news, as if it had happened to someone who had been close to me. I wept aloud for three days and nights, with the newspaper open to the page with that article. The tears kept coming, and I couldn't make them stop.

I couldn't comprehend the series of strange events in our dan, or the fact that tragic events were happening to good people. Seeing the bones of my great grandfather during the transfer of his grave had inspired me to start asking questions about life and death, and the series of strange events in and around our home caused me to cling to religion. Yet, the Word of God f was hearing in church was not sufficient by itself to give me the clear answers that I was seeking about life and death. To relieve the frustrations in my heart, I naturally began to immerse myself in prayer.

"Who am I? Where did I come from? What is the purpose of life? What happens to people when we die? Is there a world of the eternal soul? Does God really exist? Is God really all powerful? If He is, why does He just stand by and watch the sorrows of the world? If God created this world, did He also create the suffering that is in the world? What will be the end of Korea's tragedy of having its country taken away by Japan? What is the meaning of the suffering of the Korean people? Why do human beings hate each other, fight and start wars?" My heart was filled with these serious and fundamental questions. No one could easily answer them for me, so my only option was to pray. Prayer helped to find solace. When I lay out before God the problems in my heart that were causing me anguish, all my suffering and sorrow would vanish and my heart felt at ease. I began spending more and more time in prayer to the

point that, eventually, I began praying through the night more and more often. Finally one day, I had a rare and precious experience in which God answered my prayers. That day will always remain as the most precious memory of my life; a day that I can never forget, even, in my dreams.

It was the night before Easter in the year I turned sixteen. I was on Mt. Myodu, praying all night and begging God in tears for answers. Why had He created a world so filled with sorrow and despair? Why was the all-knowing and all-powerful God leaving the world in such pain? What should I do for my tragic homeland? I wept in tears as I asked these questions repeatedly.

Early Easter morning, after I had spent the entire night in prayer, Jesus appeared before me. He appeared in an instant, like a gust of wind, said to me, "God is in great sorrow because of the pain of humankind. You must take on a special mission on Earth having to do with Heaven's work."

That day, I saw clearly the sorrowful face of Jesus. I heard his voice clearly. The experience of witnessing the manifestation of Jesus made my body shake violently, like the leavens on a quaking aspen tree. I was simultaneously overcome with fear so great I felt I might die and gratitude so profound I felt I might explode. Jesus spoke clearly about the work that I would have to do. His were extraordinary words, having to do with saving humanity from its suffering and bringing joy to God.

"I can't do this. How can I do this? Why would you even give me a mission of such paramount importance?" I was truly afraid. I wanted somehow to avoid this mission, and I clung to the hem of his clothing and wept.



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