The Witness of Evangelist Kim Yoonsup
The following testimony to the faith and trials of evangelist Kim Yoonsup is excerpted from The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed.
Evangelist Kim Yoonsup was born in the village of In-doo in Syenchun County of North Pyengan Province. He was brought up in a non-Christian home and was known as one of the ‘bad boys’ of the village. But when he was about twenty years old he became a Christian. After experiencing regeneration, his life was filled with ‘much grace,’ according to Elder Chung Bongsung, one who later shared imprisonment with him, and to whom I am indebted for filling in many of the details of Yoonsup’s life.
Kim had two years beyond grammar school in formal secular education. Following his baptism, he entered the North Pyengan Presbytery’s Bible Institute and led services in a small country church until his graduation. After graduation, he gave himself to full-time work for the Lord and pioneered churches in Duk-in and Wul-wha villages, helping to carry the stones himself for the first little chapel at Duk-in. The grace of the Lord was upon him and the work prospered wherever he went. He was large, over six feet tall, healthy, had a good voice and was in demand as a leader in the churches of the area.
When the Assembly of the Korean Presbyterian Church yielded to government pressure and formally declared that shrine worship was not idolatry, but merely a patriotic act, Kim was greatly disturbed in his mind and preached a strong sermon entitled, ‘Daniel’s Purposed Aim’, which greatly moved the hearts of the hearers. The police got wind of his preaching, and detectives in his audience reported the things he said. As a result he was arrested and exposed to various kinds of torture, one being the famed ‘water cure,’ in which the prisoner is stretched out, face upwards, on a narrow bench, hands tied under the bench, head hanging down over the end of the bench. Water is then poured from a kettle down his nostrils, practically drowning him. Sometimes red pepper is added to the water as a special refinement of the torture. At another time, Kim was branded with a hot iron. On one occasion, he told me, several police seized him and, using the back of a chair as a fulcrum, tried to bend his rigid body in a bow toward the shrine in the corner of the police station, thinking that if they could make him bow, even against his will, he would feel compromised and weaken. But Kim, being tall and strong, resisted vigorously, lying on the floor and kicking like a baby. He was kicked in the head and body and his clothes torn, but he still refused to bow, and they seemed unable to make him do so.
At other times the police resorted to kindly talk, and sought to reason him into bowing. ‘Christianity was a Western religion’ and Westerners were not as strict about keeping God’s commandments as they expected Orientals to be, or even as demanding as Kim was of himself, they argued. Also many Christians, including some missionaries and ministers, saw nothing wrong in Shinto worship. Even the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the leaders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and the Vatican itself, had approved of it. Did he think he was the only good Christian in the world?
But whether it was torture or argument or blandishments, Kim met each testing with prayer for strength and wisdom and with God’s Word. Perhaps the most difficult form of temptation was freedom itself. When the authorities were not able to break him in other ways, they gave him up as a hopeless case and released him, but at the same time warning him that he would be arrested again if he continued to teach as before. As with the apostles in Acts 4:17, it was a case of ‘let us threaten them and let them go.’ How precious freedom is after imprisonment! But, for Kim, it could be had only at the price of keeping his mouth shut. Only one who has been through such a trial (and the writer speaks from experience) can know the strength of such a temptation to silence. But Kim did not yield to the temptation. On his release, he continued preaching as before. He was arrested again. The torturing was more severe. This arrest-and-release policy was repeated until he had been imprisoned eight times.
It was while in prison for his eighth time that Kim broke. This all happened before I ever met him. I have read and even heard, from such men as Evangelist Pak, several accounts of Kim’s compromise, in which they say that it came about under pressure of torture, water-cure, branding and so forth. Such reports are liable to discourage Christians and make them feel, ‘If a man like Kim finally broke, dare I think I could hold out?’ Even before I met Kim, I used to doubt the validity of the ‘lesson’ people drew from Kim’s compromise, namely, ‘You had better not fall into the hands of the police. Flee! You won’t be able to hold out any more than Kim did.’ God’s Word says, ‘There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear.’ I was glad, therefore, when I eventually met Kim and heard from his own lips the true story of his compromise.
He said he had been brought to prison for his eighth time. Prison, torture, even death, were not so hard to endure or face as were the periods of release, when, against what seemed to be common wisdom, he must carry on the struggle. It was the times when he would be torn from his wife and children that were hard. His wife bravely encouraged him, but the little four-year-old boy would cry inconsolably when his father was led away again by the police. And so, like Elijah under the juniper tree, he came to the point when he wanted to die.
It was just while he was attempting suicide that the guard called him from his cell for another period of examination. On all previous occasions, such a summons turned him to the Lord for strength and wisdom, and the Lord sustained him. He told me that sometimes, under the severest torture, he actually rejoiced in the Lord. But on this occasion it was different. The sin of attempted suicide had broken fellowship with the Lord and such fellowship is not easily or quickly restored. He followed the guard, numb and prayerless of soul. As a matter of form he was again ordered to bow to the shrine, and to the surprise of the police, he meekly obeyed. They were delighted at his change of mind and asked him to put his seal to a statement that it was not idolatrous to bow to a shrine. Again, in a numb way, he submitted. He was now released and told he was free to preach and hold meetings. But like Peter, Kim went out and wept bitterly.
Kim resigned his work as an evangelist and moved to Manchuria. He was not only strong of body but good at mechanics. Before becoming a Christian, he had handled different kinds of machines in his farm village. His family had to live, so he started a rope-making factory, which provided a good living for himself and other Christian fugitives from Korea. But he was not happy. He had a calling from the Lord, and the voices in the church, speaking out against the idolatry of shrine worship, were so few! But what could he do? He had compromised. Furthermore he had sinned wilfully. Was there any forgiveness for him? And under the circumstances, how could he lead others?
He had heard of our work in North Manchuria, and, in his distress, he came to me. It was my privilege to point out to him that ‘there is no more sacrifice for sin’—fastings, prayers, nothing whatsoever can be added to what Christ has done. ‘He who knew no sin became sin for us,’ he did it ‘once for all,’ and ‘if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ It was not a new story to Kim, but it helped to turn his eyes to Jesus alone, and in turning he found forgiveness and victory.
He wrote to the police, retracting his signed statement, and subsequently found much liberty in expounding God’s Word and in exhorting Christians to stand. He went from place to place strengthening the Christians. He was much in demand. Often, after the close of the regular evening meeting, Christians would gather about him, asking him to give them proof-texts to meet particular phases of the whole shrine problem. Such informal meetings would last far beyond midnight, and no one seemed to get tired; their lives were at stake.
About a month after the writing of his retraction, police came from Korea to arrest him. He was at our home at the time, and when a messenger from his home came, saying they were looking for him, we had prayer together and then he went fearlessly and cheerfully to meet them. And so he was imprisoned for his ninth time. The date was March or April, 1940.
During this imprisonment Kim suffered from dysentery and malnutrition. In December of 1940, shortly after Miss Ahn Youngae had been released only to die, Kim’s wife received word to come and remove her husband, as he too was dying and they were releasing him. When she arrived at the prison, she found her husband lying on the frozen ground. His underwear had long since been torn up for bandages with which to bind up the wounds of other prisoners, and his big Korean jacket had slipped up, leaving his bare back against the hard frozen ground. He was too weak even to adjust his clothes to protect himself. She got him home in a Russian taxi.
I did not learn of Kim’s release until the next morning. When I arrived at the home, I found him being tenderly cared for, lying on the warm, heated Korean floor. He tried to lift his head, but fell back. He tried to speak, but I could not hear him across the little room. I bent close to him and he uttered the two words: ‘Immanuel,’ ‘Hallelujah,’ Immanuel, God with us, and Hallelujah, Praise the Lord. His greatest awareness was that God was with him and in his suffering he was praising the Lord!
But that was not the end. He began to improve. Towards Christmas time, the members of the church went together to buy him a warm, fur-lined overcoat. We were having our services in different houses, and, though proscribed by the government, Kim’s home was one of the regular meeting places. As Kim got better he led the services in his home, though still having to lean on a big stick to move himself around. I especially recall the communion service which I led there. Christians from our various meeting places had gathered for it. Kim gave the message. Thumbing quickly and familiarly through his big Bible, he brought us a two-hour message on ‘Fear not.’ ‘It’s wrong to fear,’ he declared. He took us through the Scriptures to show why it is wrong to fear, opening up the many promises the Lord gives us for times of danger.
‘How do you have the courage to keep going in the face of constant arrests?’ Kim was asked at about this time. ‘When I became a Christian, I died with Christ,’ was his humble answer, ‘and once you are dead, what men do to you cannot hurt you.’
Even on the day of the communion, every knock at the door made us wonder if it was not another call from the police. It was not many weeks after this, early in 1941, that Kim, still leaning on his stick, was arrested for the tenth and last time. It was a time when the authorities arrested about seventy Christians, called by the press ‘the death pact band’ (Kyul Sa Dan) because of the covenant to which they had subscribed. They were brought from all parts of Manchuria. The press made it appear that a great conspiracy against the government had been uncovered, though we had been quite open in urging subscription to the covenant. While trying to make it appear that the members of the ‘band’ were enemy agents disloyal to the government, the press also spoke of them as people who had no awareness of the world about them, as people who were ‘looking only for the coming of Jesus on the clouds.’
It was the writer’s privilege to be in prison with Kim in the same penitentiary in Antung, Manchuria, between November 22 and December 5, 1941. I saw Kim several times and talked with him briefly, though somewhat indirectly, once. We were both trying to witness to the Korean guard who was watching us. I had told the guard of Kim’s many imprisonments for Christ, and that we were both ‘in’ for the same reasons.
‘Aren’t you afraid you will die in prison?’ the guard asked, for prison conditions were not meant to do more than barely sustain life, and the death of prisoners was not uncommon. I told him that eternal life meant so much to us that, while death was not pleasant to contemplate, it was not such a fearful thing in comparison to the loss of eternal life. Kim spoke up saying, ‘Pastor, I practically died again this time. It was from a case of typhoid fever. I was even unconscious for a time.’ Then he added, ‘But, Pastor, when you know Jesus, it’s cheap to die’ (Chooknan gussi hul hayo).
Kim’s sanity and lack of fanaticism impressed me on one particular occasion during our imprisonment in Antung together. One of our fellow Christians, Choi Hanki, had lost his mind under the torture. Strangely enough, the guards had called Mrs Roy Byram and myself from our cells to pray with him, possibly, like Herod, hoping to see some miracle. Choi had been an attractive young evangelist with a wife and two lovely children. I was shocked when I saw him, broken in mind, sitting slumped in a chair, his clothes disarranged, his wrists tied with leather thongs to a great leather belt around his waist so he could not hurt himself. His eyes were like those of a wild animal. Mrs Byram and I had prayer for him there in the prison dispensary and then were taken back to our respective cells. What I had seen kept haunting me. I could not get Choi and his family out of my mind. As I prayed for him the verse kept recurring to me, ‘This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer and fasting.’ In spite of the fact that prison fare always left me hungry, I determined to set aside a day for fasting and prayer. Through one of our inter-cell contacts, I suggested that Kim, who had done much prayer and fasting before imprisonment, should join me. He sent word back that his body was greatly weakened (it being his tenth imprisonment) and he would join me in prayer for Choi, but that he felt he must conserve his strength for whatever lay ahead, so he would not fast. This rejoiced me more than if he had agreed to fast. Choi, it should be added, was released within a week and later recovered sanity and was being greatly used of the Lord in North Korea when last heard of before the Communists completely clamped down on the church.
Kim, with thirteen other Christians, was finally brought to trial in January 1942. The charges against them were the same as those made against the prisoners in Korea: violating the public peace; lèse majesté; irreverence; and giving aid to the enemy. Kim was recognised by the authorities as the leader. The judges’ questions were mostly addressed to him. His fellow prisoners, including Pak Eehum, who was himself quite outstanding, recognised the firm but gentle Kim as their spokesman.
On the first day of the trial, the judge said to Kim, ‘According to your beliefs, if a man serves any god except your Jehovah God he will be cast into hell; do you then believe that His Majesty the Emperor who serves the gods of his ancestors will go to hell?’
‘Yes, he will’ (‘Hai, soo desu’), Kim replied.
‘Do you really mean it?’ the judge asked (‘his eyes wide as saucers and his face red with anger,’ according to Elder Chung Bongsung, one of the fourteen being tried).
‘Do you mean it?’ (‘Hontoka?’), the enraged judge repeated for the third time.
Without hesitation, but with a prayer in his heart, Kim answered, ‘Yes, he will.’ Despite his boldness, he seemed calm and relaxed.
The trial was not over in one or two days. It ran on for ten days. Gradually the atmosphere in the court room changed. The grace of the Lord seemed to be on his servants as, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they gave their strong testimony. As the trial proceeded, the judges themselves became more ‘strained,’ as though they were the ones who were on trial. The Lord provided a ‘gracious atmosphere’ making the court become more like a church, with Kim preaching the Word of God, Elder Chung said. He also reported that the prisoners were made to remember the words of the Lord in Matthew 10:18–20: ‘It shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak, for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.’
On the last day but one of the trial, two of the fourteen gave in, and agreed to shrine worship—Kim Choongdo a public school teacher who was given ‘eight years,’ and Evangelist Kim Kyungduk who was given ‘twelve years.’ The others felt, on the one hand, the grim agony ‘of this break in their ranks and at the same time were moved to tears of thankfulness for the grace of God without which they knew they themselves could not stand.’
Following the preliminary summing up of the case, all fourteen were moved from the big common cells where they had been held, to the block of smaller cells, usually reserved for ‘foreign prisoners,’ the very cells where Dr Byram of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and I had been held for a month and a half, just a few months prior to this. Kim Kyungduk, after yielding, sobbed pitifully all night, and declared that on his release he would withdraw his consent to shrine worship, but does not seem to have had the courage to do so.
On the last day of the trial, when the prisoners were brought from their respective cells and were waiting in the basement of the court house to be led into the court room, Evangelist Kim Yoonsup said to his fellow prisoners: ‘Brothers, since we have reached the end of the road, the opportunity further to admonish or reprove others is past. Every one is free. As we are at the fork in the road of life and death, those who would die for Jesus will die together, and those who would live will do as they wish. But there is one thing to remember, the mouths of the lions which wanted to swallow Daniel were only open mouths; they could not actually eat Daniel, could they?’ These words were a great strength to his friends. Thus Evangelist Kim helped the others and was like a general commanding troops on the front line. When Evangelist Pak Eehum spoke of him admiringly as ‘General,’ Kim Yoonsup with his characteristic faith and humility said that he could not be General, ‘Jesus is our General.’
During the noon recess of the preceding day, after two of the men had capitulated, the prisoners were all sent back to the cells in the courthouse basement and given their usual cake of steamed corn-meal. The cells are built around the walls, facing inward, with an open space in the middle, so that the guard sitting in this space can keep an eye on all the prisoners. The occasion was fraught with emotion. It was drawing to the close of a long struggle. Though each ate his or her corn-cake in a separate cell, they did so in a kind of circle about the open space. With charges having been pronounced against them, the prisoners felt bound together as never before, and their noon meal
became a kind of ‘sacrament’ of the Lord’s body. Kim, the spokesman, referring to it, said, ‘The Lord has, as it were, prepared for us his holy meal, how good is this time!’ What added poignancy and heightened the meaning of the ‘communion’ was that just as they bowed their heads in prayer and were about to eat, for some reason, the two men who had recanted were called out by the guards, and had to leave their meal untouched. This strange differentiation between the two and the twelve occurred again on the following and last day. The sentences had been pronounced. The court had kindly allowed friends and relatives to buy dishes of ‘domburi,’ (a rice, meat, and egg, one-dish meal, common in Japan) for each of the prisoners, before they started serving their long sentences. Again, just as they were about to eat, the two who had recanted were called from the room and had to leave the food they so craved, untouched. Kim said, ‘This is the supper the Lord has provided and he has not allowed those to join us who have refused to take this stand of separation from idols with us.’ The following are the names of the twelve who were finally sentenced on February 3, 1942, and the terms to which they were sentenced:
Kim Yoonsup, Evangelist – 15 years
Pak Eehum, Evangelist – 12 years
Chun Bongsung, Evangelist and Elder – 10 years
Kim Yangsoon, Evangelist – 10 years
Sin Okyuh, Bible Woman – 10 years
Kim Sinbok, Bible Woman – 10 years
Pak Myungsoon, Bible Woman – 8 years
Han Soochan, Deacon – 8 years
Chun Chooduk, Deacon – 8 years
Kim Ungpil, Deacon – 8 years
Kim Taikyung, Nurse (Deaconess) – 8 years
Chun Choisun Yungsoo, Church Leader – 6 years
As the tide of World War II turned against the Japanese, free civilians were so restricted, and rationing so strict that the whole country became like a vast concentration camp, and the life of criminals in the penitentiaries proportionately difficult. The twelve prisoners were moved from the Antung penitentiary to Mukden.
Kim was skilful with machinery and could have received preferential treatment as a ‘technician’ but because it meant Sabbath work he chose rather to be an ordinary labourer and worked in the print shop. The guards respected him and he had a great influence among the prisoners. Two robbers from Youngchun in North Pyenyan Province, who had received seven-year sentences, were led to the Lord by Kim. They prayed and studied their Bibles with him and upon their release proved the sincerity of their Christian profession. Some details of Kim’s last days were learned through them.
At one time, a Japanese prisoner appeared to be converted through Kim’s preaching, but he in turn tried to weaken Kim in his stand. This proved to be a severe testing of Kim’s faith. He wondered later whether the Japanese prisoner had not been purposely ‘planted’; for when Kim refused to change his stand, the Japanese turned against him, speaking ill of him. As long as he lived, Kim encouraged his fellow sufferers and constantly challenged them to more saintly living by his own words and life. The prison fare was ‘not one fifth’ what a man of his size and energy would want, ‘if he ate it all,’ but he used to divide his food ‘not only with his friends but with others.. ‘He did not stop praying, singing, or witnessing in prison, and became known as a “man of God.”’ In his struggle for truth he was bold as a lion, but in his dealing with those about him he was humble and merciful so that even from the lips of one of the Japanese guards was wrung the tribute to his saintliness, ‘Anatawa Kamisama desu’ (You are a god).
Hard labour and lack of nourishment following on the tortures and sickness during the more than two years of imprisonment before his trial began to tell. His lungs became affected, and at last, too weak to work in the print shop, he was sent to the prison infirmary. He was now cut off from any contact with his fellow Christians. The loss of his buoyant leadership was described as having a ‘suffocating’ effect on them. Only occasional news of him leaked through the infirmary walls, by way of other patients hospitalized for shorter periods. Thus his last days were spent wholly among non-Christians and it was through the lips of non-Christians who were near him and saw him at the time, that we know of his death. In bed he continued to witness to all—prisoners, jailers, and clerks. Those who were there always spoke of him with pity and admiration and were sure he had gone to the heaven of which Christians speak.
For three or four days before his death he kept singing hymns, with a beaming face, like an angel, and repeating, ‘It’s time for someone from my home to come.’ His singing could be heard by well-nigh a thousand prisoners awaiting trial in the floors above and below the infirmary. Listening in the tomb-like silence of the prison, they would, in spite of regulations, occasionally break into applause.
On the last morning, May 3, 1943, when Kim received his morning meal, he divided it carefully into four parts as usual, ate two parts himself, gave the other equally divided parts to two other patients, then fell back in final and peaceful sleep. He had served only fifteen months of his fifteen-year sentence, a month for a year.
The song sung so much during those last days seems to have been the Korean translation of the ‘Glory Song’,
When all my labours and trials are o’er
And I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore
Will through the ages be glory for me.
O, that will be glory for me! Glory for me!
Glory for me! When, by His grace, I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me!
His last act of sharing, followed by the peaceful passing in sleep, graphically sealed to the non-Christians among whom he died the testimony concerning his hope of heaven and joy in seeing the Saviour, concerning whom he had been singing so much during his final days.
Photograph: Kim Yoonsup and his family after his release from one of his imprisonments.
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