By Bethany Russell | Contributor
I was asked by The Echo to share my recent experiences at the Pyeongchang Olympics; however, I confess that I'm still so overwhelmed by everything that it's hard to express.
I remember being so baffled by how I could suddenly find myself on the other side of the planet, sitting in the third row of an Olympic stadium with my two Korean friends, 2015 Taylor graduate Inyoung Baek (my old Taylor roommate) and 2016 Taylor graduate Jihyun (Bella) Kim. "How in the world did I get here?" I asked myself. It had to be divine.
We decided to go to the Olympics together a few months ago, and I happened to capriciously choose the women's ice hockey event. Little did we know that this would be a historical game where North and South Korea would combine as one team. Baek articulates it well when she states, "I personally could feel closer to North Korea than whenever I hear about them from the news . . . however, I also couldn't help thinking about a South Korean player who failed a qualifying heat and couldn't join the team, even though she put in a lot of effort to play in the Olympics."
Although I am not qualified to speak on the politics, it was significant for me on a spiritual level because God gave me the blessing of physically looking at the people who have been in my prayers long before I knew I'd see them in person. There is something deeply moving about the way God will sometimes invite us to witness something, even if our "only" involvement is by prayer. Amazingly, this is not the first time He's done this in my life.
The game was similarly momentous for Baek and Kim who, despite living in South Korea, had never seen a North Korean in real life.
"I thought I could differentiate North and South Koreans by sight, but I wouldn't have been able to if they didn't wear colored uniforms," Kim said. "But I could notice when I heard their voices. They have a strong accent and slightly different language, as they only use Korean. For example, if they want to say Coca-Cola, they'd call it 'sweet black tea.'"
I asked two Korean professors here at Taylor for counsel regarding how Christian foreigners can better understand the situation in Korea.
"Christians should keep their spiritual perspective even on the political stance and especially in the case of the two Koreas, as Korea is a very, very unique country blessed by God in Asia," department chair of modern language and professor of Spanish A. Chin Chang said. "Pyongyang was like Asia's Jerusalem, but now it's the capital of North Korea, which is an unreasonably closed and brutal dictatorship. I know some Christians say that we have to love our enemy - love our North Korea - that's true, but there's a hugely important point of that: We have to be careful in identifying who is the North Korean people. More than 20 million people have been suffering from that brutal, oppressive dictatorship without religious freedom. They are the people of North Korea we have to think about, not just Kim (Jong Un)'s family."
Joseph Pak, associate professor of biblical studies, further advised Christians to investigate mission organizations, including Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors, that are "directly working with refugees from North Korea and are involved in secretly training disciples there."
While on the plane to Incheon, a Korean man first told me about the large, thriving underground church in North Korea, and I cried. So much is happening there beyond our awareness - some things indescribably appalling - but I praise God for the hope that He has not forgotten their suffering; not even for an instant.