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i f   I  p e r i s h

“If I perish, I perish”.  These were the bravely spoken words of Esther, the Biblical beauty queen, committing herself to approach the king’s scepter to implore mercy for her people.  One of my new favorite books, an autobiography of Esther Ahn Kim, hearkens these words in its title, If I Perish. Its title and its story reflect a life lived with the same deliberate and reckless abandonment—a life yielded entirely to God’s purposes. In this book, the children and I were particularly intrigued with God’s intimate and particular attention to the prayers of His people, the amazing acts of His providence that orchestrate the details of history, and the corruption of cultures and governments that embrace idolatrous and godless worldviews.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea prior to and during WW II, the Japanese forced the Koreans to march to their gods’ shrines and pay homage—those resisting were imprisoned, brutally tortured, their families denied food rations. The narrative begins as Kim quietly, boldly marches to the shrine and, fearing God rather than man, does not prostrate herself to worship idols made by men. Her adventures, because of this, lead her to flee to Japan to inform Japanese leaders, some with Christian sympathies, of the untold extent of religious persecution happening in Korea.  This leads thereafter, into the story of her arrest and life in various Korean prisons where the Lord uses her gifts in language (she excelled in Japanese, the language of her captors) and writing.  Her devotion—constant prayer, fasting, courageous obedience, and mercy to the dirtiest and lowliest outcasts—throughout her imprisonment are very inspiring.

The ways in which God answers several of her prayers are simply historical. For instance, at the apex of the war, the Japanese are intent that all their subjects implore their gods for victory. As a result they plan that everyone will bow down at a signal and together pay homage to their gods. There is one cruel prison guard who despises all the good God has done through and to Esther Ahn and who is only all too eager to execute the impending justice towards Kim the moment Kim defies the command to worship idols. The expected time of worship arrives and passes…it never happens.   The plane, carrying the governor who was to signal the commencement of these worship exercises, has been shot down.  The last chapters record the defeat of the Japanese, an empire so humiliated by the impotency their gods, that they burn their shrines with kerosene. The Russian communists replace them in political power and with their godless, atheistic worldview they usher in a government and a society only more barbaric and more cruel. In the last chapters, Esther Ahn Kim flees persecution with other Christians to South Korea—south of the 38th parallel.

Here are a few choice dainties from the book:

 

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“I am already dead.”

 

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In reply to a Japanese Christian’s admission that he bows to the gods and doesn’t consider it a sin, Esther Ahn Kim writes, “I was stunned at his words.  What is the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, I thought, if a believer does the same things as an unbeliever? Why would he even become a Christian unless he allowed God to change his life?

 

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“As the faithful servant of the great imperial Japanese emperor and the commandant of the Pyongyang prison, I order you to serve the nation by doing your work every day.”

“As a servant of God who created the heavens and the earth and overrules the whole world, I cannot obey rules that ignore the rules of God.”  Kim replies, insisting that she will honor the Sabbath Day by not working, despite the fact that she welcomes the job because it makes the time pass more quickly.  She writes, “After the confrontation with the commandant, I did not work on Sundays but spent my time with the Lord.  If we did not rest, how miserable we would be, with no difference between ourselves and the beasts.  Because of His fatherly love, God consecrated the Sabbath day to make us rest.  I was grateful for it.”

 

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“An express train loaded with young Japanese soldiers had just arrived from Japan and was going on to the battlefield.  Everyone was at the station:  the leading officials, policemen, students, and ordinary citizens.  Japanese flags were waving while the people shouted, “Banzai,”  and the students in uniform were singing a patriotic number, accompanied by the band.  I was not listening to the din around me.  My gaze was fixed on the solemn, expressionless faces of the  young servicemen.  They looked like so many corpses headed for unmarked graves on the battlefields of China, living sacrifices to the gods of imperialism and military might.  Numbly I walked alongside the train, fighting for each breath.  The soldiers all had that strange look of death, as though they were being sent to hell for the sake of the state. Didn’t the Bible say that the wages of idolatry were wars, famines, and pestilences?  Because of it, youth would die in wars, wives would become widows, parents would lose their sons, children would become orphans, and peace would vanish.  Idolatry would cause all the world to be visited with calamities.  Leaders of the state were responsible, for they were committing sins and sowing the seeds of the curse.”

 

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“In an effort to control the inner turmoil, the Japanese planned to increase the power of the Shinto spirits by persecuting the Christians.”

 

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“They that trust in Jehovah are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever.”  Psalm 125:1

 

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“Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.  He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble:  I will deliver him, and honor him.”

Psalm 91:14-15

 

You can purchase this book at Amazon:

If I Perish

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The following is an excerpt from a book I’m reading presently, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise & Decline of Western Thought  & Culture by Francis A. Schaeffer

“Let us not forget why the Christians were killed.  They were not killed because they worshipped Jesus.  Various religions covered the whole Roman world.  One such was the cult of Mithras, a popular Persian form of Zoroastrianism which had reached Rome by 67 B.C.  Nobody cared who worshipped whom so long as the worshipper did not disrupt the unity of the state, centered in the formal worship of Caesar.  The reason the Christians were killed was because they were rebels.  This was especially so after their growing rejection by the Jewish synagogues lost for them the immunity granted to the Jews since Julius Caesar’s time.

We may express the nature of their rebellion in two ways, both of which are true.  First, we can say they worshipped Jesus as God and they worshipped the infinite-personal God only.  The Caesars would not tolerate this worshipping of the one God only.  It was counted as treason.  Thus their worship became a special threat to the unity of the state during the third century and during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), when people of the higher classes began to become Christians in larger numbers.  If they had  worshipped Jesus and Caesar, they would have gone unharmed, but they rejected all forms of syncretism.  They worshipped the God who had revealed himself in the Old Testament, through Christ, and in the New Testament which had gradually been written.  And they worshipped him as the only God.  They allowed no mixture.  All other gods were seen as false gods.

We can also express in a second way why the Christians were killed:  No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions.  The Christians had that absolute in God’s revelation.  Because the Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state, they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to the beasts.”  (pages 25-26)

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