PastorConnect: Remembering the Persecuted

Choo Kichul was born in 1897 in Oongchun, South Kyungsang Province, to a non-Christian family. While still a young man, Choo became a Christian under the ministry of Kim Ikdoo. Following graduation from college and seminary, he served small churches in South Korea, but eventually he went to the large Sanchunghyun Presbyterian Church in Pyengyang.

Korea was under Japanese rule in those days, and although the Japanese Constitution guaranteed “freedom of religion,” the refusal to bow before shrines was considered politically insubordinate. Many professing Christians submitted to Japanese directives to bow before the Shinto shrines, but the true Christians, like Pastor Kichul, refused. His strong conviction to worship Christ alone was publicly known.

In fact, over 24 churches drew up a covenant to stand against shrine worship. Anyone who did not consent to the covenant was not baptized or allowed to lead in worship.

In 1938 Pastor Choo was first arrested and imprisoned because a deacon in his church was a member of the “Christian Farmer’s Movement,” an organization suspicious of being anti-Japanese. In his trial, his opposition to shrine worship did not go unnoticed, but he was released after being threatened by the authorities.

Following his release and much prayer, Choo freely preached against shrine worship, declaring it as idolatry, and because of this, he was arrested again in August 1939. It was difficult for him to return to prison, leaving behind his blind mother and crying children.

His brave wife, however, was a constant prayer warrior, asking not for her husband’s release but for the Lord to help him “be strong and of good courage to the end, and to be offered up a sacrifice on the altar of the Korean church.” His congregation also prayed that he would be faithful to the end.

This second arrest brought the first torture. Pastor Choo was flogged for some five hours until he finally fainted. Ten different times he was examined under torture, but he never succumbed to his oppressors’ wishes. A fellow prisoner reported that he would often pray, “Lord, don’t leave this weak Choo Kichul too long, but hurry up and take him away!”

For six years Choo was imprisoned. During his last 20 days of life, he ate practically nothing because of the severe disease and sickness he had contracted in the rough prison conditions. His wife visited him the day before he died. Some of his last words to her were: “I’ve gone the road I’m supposed to go.” “Follow in my steps.” “Let’s meet in heaven.” He died April 13, 1944, at 9:30 p.m.[1]

This is just one of many stories of Jesus’ followers who have suffered torture, persecution, and death for Him. While this particular martyrdom took place in the 1940s, we all know that thousands of believers die for their faith every year. Unfortunately, North Korea remains antagonistic to the Christian faith to this day.

What should our response be to the persecuted church?

1. Let us be stirred with compassion for our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. The author of Hebrews commands us to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3 ESV). This means we should cultivate an awareness of and compassion for the suffering church equal in intensity to what we would feel if we ourselves were undergoing the same. After all, we are the same body!

2. Let us plead with God to prepare our hearts to be faithful unto death. Just as the Day of Pentecost preceded the first wave of persecution in the first-century church (as recorded in Acts), so the "Korean Pentecost" preceded the persecution of Korean believers. Revival swept through the Korean church in the early 1900s, and there is little doubt it helped prepare the church for the suffering which followed.

3. Let us be weaned from this world and live for Christ alone. Should we ever be called to die a martyr’s death, we must be able to say with Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Let’s learn to say it now. How do we get there? When one Korean pastor was questioned how he had the courage to keep going despite constant arrests, he answered, “When I became a Christian, I died with Christ, and once you are dead, what men do to you cannot hurt you.”[2]

4. Let us be encouraged by the example of those who have gone before. As Hebrews 12:1-2 states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Making It Personal

*When was the last time you truly sacrificed something for Jesus?
*Do you help your congregation maintain an awareness of persecuted Christians?
*Can you take heart from the example of Choo Kichul and others who have given up everything to follow Jesus?

[1] This story is told by Bruce Hunt in The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), p. 100-103

[2] Ibid., p. 120-121

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