As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
My parents’ hometown is the Northern Province in North Korea (Hamgyeong Do Hamheung). In January 1951 they fled their hometown to the refugee camps in Geojae Island in South Korea to escape the Chinese Military Force. At the time of their escape, they had two daughters. Although circumstances were such that they had to leave their oldest daughter behind, they promised to return for her within a month. Leaving her in the care of her grandmother, my parents left for South Korea with their second daughter. However, because of the intensifying war and the establishment of the 3.8 line, my father could no longer fulfill the promise he had made to his daughter. A few years later, when wartorn families had the opportunity to look for each other through a Korean broadcasting program called “Finding My Lost Family From the War,” my parents hopefully wondered whether they would be reunited with their oldest daughter. But despite searching and searching, they ultimately could not find her.
My father grieved for his missing daughter, calling her name and wailing as the pain he felt was unbearable. My mother, sorrowfully recalling her last moments with her daughter, could not endure her deep sadness, and as a result often became sick. I grew up wholly feeling and witnessing their sadness, sorrow, guilt, and anger. Although I had never met my oldest sister nor been to my parents’ hometown, I ached for both as if I had known them. However, I lived in the painful reality that I would not be able to see either.
Eating North Korean food offered the biggest source of comfort for my family’s heartache. My mother often cooked cold Hamheung noodles, fermented flounder, Myeongran roe, and roasted mackerel—food from the north has thus become my favorite. But my parents passed away without seeing their precious daughter once more, and I have slowly forgotten the taste of my mother's food since her passing. I can’t help but feel sad.
This story is not just ours. Statistics show that there are at least 5 to 6 million displaced second generation Koreans like me. If we count those of the third and fourth generations, the numbers surpass 10 million. If displaced second generation Koreans like me are curious about or miss knowing our parents’ hometown, then how much more would our parents miss their hometowns? This painful longing is not only ours but is one that the entire Korean peninsula feels. This longing was expressed a few years ago in the Korean movie Ode to My Father, which depicted the war and the struggles and pain associated with it. The audience’s explosive response to the raw portrayal reflected how the entire peninsula resonates and empathizes with it.
I yearn to visit my parents’ hometown. I long to see the blooming azalea flowers that my mother loved so much. I dream of sitting in my parents’ hometown and savoring the taste of my mother’s food while remembering my parents. And if she is still alive, I want to sit with my oldest sister all night and reminisce together about our parents to finally relieve our sorrow once and for all.
So when Kim Jong Un (North Korea) and Moon Jae In (South Korea) met at the historical summit in April 2018, I wept. I sensed that this hope that I had clung onto my entire life would finally become a reality. Now that the next North Korea and America summit has been held, I really do feel like my dream—and the dream of millions of others—is becoming reality. So I pray, “God, please help me to go to my parents’ hometown. Instead of going around through China, please let me go through the 3.8 line on a highway connecting the North and South to alleviate the painful memories that many Koreans endured because of it. Even better if this highway can go all the way through Siberia and to Europe!”
If my prayer is answered, I want to plant a church in my parents’ hometown so that I can share the gospel with everyone. I want to tell people there is a Home far more precious than our own hometowns. An eternal sanctuary where there is no sadness, sorrow, or tears. I want to tell them that our hometowns are a reflection our eternal Home.
Isaiah 35 draws the picture of the kingdom of God. “Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. . . . No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (6-7, 9-10).
Description of the picture:
I told the story of the Korean War, explaining how millions were displaced and are living in a lot of pain, to my youngest daughter. She stitched this together to illustrate our sorrow for me. The flag at the top represents North Korea’s flag and the train is what many rode to escape. You can sense the deep sorrow the girl is feeling because she is being separated from her family, which is illustrated by the hand behind the bars, which represent the 3.8 line. Though I feel sad when I look at this illustration, I feel happy that my daughter created this for me. I am hopeful that my dream will become a reality.
About the Author
Daniel Kim is a senior pastor of East Bay Korean Christian Reformed Church in El Cerrito, CA.