Ahn Ei Sook is not a household name among most Christians today (nor is her married name, Esther Ahn Kim), but her testimony in her autobiography, If I Perish, is soul-stirring. She was a young Korean Christian schoolteacher in the 1930s when Korea was under Japanese rule. The Japanese had set up shrines throughout the country, even in Christian churches and schools, and ordered people to bow down and worship at them. In Ahn’s school, she successfully avoided having to go to the shrine for many days, but finally the day came when the principal of the school sought her out and insisted she come to the shrine, lest the Japanese close their school because of her refusal. Miss Ahn went to the shrine, but did not bow down when everyone else did. She was taken to the office of the chief of the district and interrogated, but when he received a phone call and stepped out of the room, she fled.
She and her mother ended up hiding out in a quiet village while her sister brought them food. They tried to be inconspicuous, yet other Christians found them out and came to visit under the cover of darkness. Some of these were living in caves or mountains. Miss Ahn and her mother shared their food with them and enjoyed their fellowship.
One day a man called Elder Park came and told Miss Ahn God had told him to come and find her and go with her to warn the Japanese officials of God’s judgment to come if they did not repent. She initially shrank from this, but finally agreed to go. They had many disagreements about exactly how to accomplish this, and, indeed, some of what they did seems strange to us, even remembering that the times, culture, and circumstances were different. For instance, she felt she should get the proper paperwork; he felt he did not need such “man-made things,” for God was his refuge. He felt that God would blind the eyes of the officials….and that is exactly what happened. When the officials came on the train to see everyone’s paperwork, they walked right by him as if they did not see him.
God gave them a good audience with a few sympathetic Japanese officials. Yet in another disagreement, Elder Park felt they should go to the Japanese Diet and drop a warning from the balcony. This would be illegal: he felt then there would be an arrest and a hearing. Miss Ahn felt that deliberately breaking the law was the wrong way to go about it, but felt she must go with him. They were, of course, arrested and imprisoned. After some days she was released to go home, yet under guard. Some weeks later she was arrested along with several other pastors and Christian leaders and imprisoned for six years.
The majority of the rest of the book is about her prison experiences, how the Lord sustained her and used her. I want to share just one incident that shows real agape love.
A woman had been brought to the prison who was thought to be insane. She had killed her husband and cut him up into pieces. This woman would moan and curse in her cell, was known for biting, and, because she kept pounding the door, she was handcuffed 24 hours a day. Miss Ahn felt that the Lord would have her reach out to this woman. She requested that she be brought to her cell. The woman was disheveled and filthy. When she fell asleep, Miss Ahn, concerned about her being cold, took the woman’s bare feet, which were covered with excrement, into her own bosom and held them against her chest to keep them warm. Bit by bit, every day, with acts of kindness and words of love, the Lord enabled her to break through to this woman, who became a believer. The jailers were astounded at the change in her. Miss Ahn was able to disciple her, and she faced her execution in peace.
Many people who knew Miss Ahn commented on her weakness; she herself referred to being weak many times. Yet God uses “the weak things of the world” to show His power (I Corinthians 1:27, II Corinthians 12:9-10). One thing that encouraged me was that she struggled often with her feelings: she would be full of faith at one time, even feeling adventurous about what she was facing. But another time she would feel fearful. This encouraged me because it showed just how human she was. Even feeling fearful, though, she knew she must obey, and relied on the Lord for strength.
When the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, the Christians in the prison were released. Of the thirty-four who had entered that prison, only fourteen survived.
The Russian Communists took over then, and they were not much better than the Japanese: in some ways they were a great deal worse. The Lord opened a way for her to go to South Korea and eventually to America. She married Kim Dong Myung and took the name Esther, so her book was written under the name Esther Ahn Kim.
I hope you’ll read more of her story.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)