True Mother's Life
Refugees: A Princess Grows Up
By Linna Rapkins
Three figures were on the road to the city. Every so often, they stopped, put the backs of their hands to their foreheads, and bowed all the way down to the ground three times. Then they walked on.
The city was Korea's capital, Seoul. The year was 1948, and the three figures were Mrs. Hong, her mother, and her five year old daughter, Hak Ja Han (she was six by Korean age.) Although they had been walking many days since escaping from the prison in Pyongyang, the girl was in good spirits, and her eyes sparkled with interest as the city came into view.
It wasn't a tall city with skyscrapers. Rather, all the buildings were less than five stories tall so they wouldn't stand taller than the Emperor's palace. Most of the people traveled by foot or bicycle. As the end of their journey came into view, Mrs. Hong felt hopeful. Her brother might be here. Maybe-just maybe-a warm room awaited them.
She looked down at her daughter. "Such a good girl," she thought. "Never complaining, always optimistic and obedient. It's a sad thing, though, that her father never tried to work things out after she was born."
She glanced at her mother walking beside her. "Of course, Omma was pretty tough on him, telling him to be adopted into our family and then making a big fuss when he wanted to take his daughter to live somewhere else. His pride was hurt." She sighed. "Well, at least I don't think about him much anymore." Another sigh. "Still, I sure could use some manly support sometimes." For a woman alone to care for a child in Korea at that time was not easy.
Soon-Ae remembered the home they had left behind: the dirt roads of the village, the cottage with the thatched roof, the persimmon tree- those things they would see no more. She thought also of the Inside Belly Church-gone forever. Mrs. Ho Ho Bin had refused to tell the police that she had not received revelations, even though she had received a note from a man in another cell telling her to deny everything. That man had told her to pray who had written the note so she could know the message was from heaven, but she didn't listen. She disobeyed the man (it was Father) and she never came back from jail.
Another woman became the leader of the group. There had been a short but unforgettable conversation between Mrs. Hong and this woman.
"Who is this girl?" the woman had asked when she saw her daughter.
"This is my daughter, Hak Ja Han," she had answered.
"How old is she?
"Six years old."
Then simply, but with quiet authority, she had said, "She will be the bride of the Lord!"
Just thinking about it gave Mrs. Hong that light-headed feeling that came whenever something unusual happened regarding her daughter, and she renewed her promise to God to take good care of her. That was her mission in life, it seemed. When they had been put into prison, she didn't know what to think. Should she stay calm, knowing that God was caring for her daughter? Or should she fight desperately to save her? In the end, she did both, and after eleven days, they escaped. "Omma! Omma!" Hak Ja was tugging at her sleeve to get her attention.
"Will we be in Seoul today?"
"Yes, we will, daughter," she answered. "And don't forget that we will meet the Messiah very soon."
She looked at her mother to include her in this statement. "As we enter Seoul, we must remember to have the feeling that we are approaching him. We will continue to do our three bows regularly until we come to the edge of the city."
Mrs. Hong's own mother just looked at her wearily and nodded her head. By the afternoon, they were in the city, but still they continued walking.
"This city is endless," Soon-Ae murmured with a worried look. "It could take days to find my brother."
Her mother looked worried, too. It had been many years since she had seen her son, her only other child besides Soon-Ae. Would they recognize him?
"We could pray, Omma," suggested her daughter.
"That we could, daughter," she agreed.
Mrs. Hong silently prayed for guidence as they walked. With the money the soldiers had given them at the border, they stopped at an outdoor counter and had some hot fish and noodle soup, and she continued her inner prayer.
As they got up to continue their journey among the street vendors, Mrs. Hong suddenly saw a familiar face. It was a friend of her brother-and an answer to her prayers. When she told him she was looking for her brother, he was very enthusiastic.
"Yes, he is here! He's a soldier and is stationed in Seoul now." He shook his head in disbelief. "He's been talking about his family a lot lately and wishing he could go home after all these years. And now here you are! Well, then, come along. I will take you to his place."
Before long, the reunited family was settled in Seoul. Hak Ja Han attended a nearby school, and Mrs. Hong worked to support her family.
During their first year in Seoul, the communists of North Korea were becoming a real threat. They made life miserable for the South whenever they possibly could. For example, the electricity would suddenly go off all over Seoul. That was because the electical power came from the communists, who were fond of turning it off so the factories would have to close. Then they accused the southern Koreans of being lazy because their factories were closed.
By 1950, the North Korean communists, with supplies from Russia, began making attacks on the villages and moving closer to Seoul. The Americans were urgently called to help. The air became thick with tension during the sweltering heat of June and July. Koreans were leaving Seoul by the thousands, heading south to get far away from the hated communists.
Mrs. Hong and her mother and brother tried not to let Hak Ja Han see that they were worried. After she fell asleep each night, the adults discussed what to do. Things were getting scary. Perhaps the North Koreans would attack Seoul. Perhaps the Americans and the Russian communists would fight each other on their land and they would be caught in the middle. Should they flee? Then one day, Mrs. Hong's brother burst into the house all out of breath.
"Pack whatever you can in ten minutes," he said. "The families of soldiers are allowed to leave the city by train, and there's one leaving soon. Kapshida! Palli, palli!" ("Let's go! Quickly, quickly!")
They rushed around, tying bundles of their belongs onto their backs. It was difficult to run to the train on such a hot day, especially being loaded down as they were, but they managed to arrive before the train left.
The old train pulled slowly out of the station and chugged along- through the city, into the country, between the layered rice paddies, over a long bridge, and into the village of Kanko. They began to relax.
Through the open windows, they saw army jeeps and American soldiers weaving among the fleeing Koreans. These big soldiers appeared to be suffering greatly from the heat and were constantly slapping at the flies and insects which tormented them. They were also scratching a lot, so they probably had lice as well. Along the railroad tracks were thousands of people-mostly women, children, and old men in tall black hats-trudging south by foot. The few younger men were bent over double, barely able to hold up the massive bundles tied onto crude A- frames on their backs.
Suddenly: Pow! Bang! Crash! Crash! What was happening? Everyone stuck their heads out of the windows. Behind the train, they saw heavy black smoke billowing into the sky and below it, a gaping hole in the bridge they had been crossing upon five minutes before. If they had been just a few minutes late...they pulled their heads back inside, not wanting to think about that possibility.
Mrs. Hong closed her eyes. "God in heaven," she breathed shakily. "Thank you. I truly know that you are protecting my daughter-Your daughter."
They learned eventually that the American soldiers had destroyed the bridge in an attempt to stop the communists from going further south.
The Korean War had begun. Mrs. Hong and her daughter and mother arrived in the city of Taegu, where they decided to stay. Now, however, they could hear the guns of war, for the communists from the North had followed close behind. The blown-up bridges had not stoppped them for long, and now they were fighting for Taegu. After that came Pusan, and then all of Korea would be theirs.
"Should we go on to Pusan?" wondered Mrs. Hong. She decided they would stay, and while the war raged around them like a big tornado, the three ladies concentrated on their daily lives. Hak Ja Han attended fifth grade. Always, they felt protected.
From time to time, God sent a reminder to Mrs. Hong to raise her daughter well. A monk once said to her, "You could never exchange this one daughter for even ten sons. This daugther is so honorable, she cannot touch the ground." (In Korea, if you are high class, they say your feet can't touch the ground.)
"Furthermore," he said, "your daughter will marry when she is very young, and she will marry an older man, a very wonderful, rich man. Money will come to him from the sky, from the land, and from the ocean." Another time, as she was dropping off to sleep, Mrs. Hong heard a voice.
"Soon-Ae Hong," it said.
"I'm listening," she said in her mind.
"I want you to understand that your daughter must stay pure. She must not have any boyfriends. This is very very important and your only mission is to protect her during the next few years."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Hong. "I understand."
She was already aware that some of her daughter's friends were boys, but they just seemed like brothers, so she hadn't been worried. However, Mrs. Hong had noticed that when they walked down the street together, older boys would often stare admiringly at her daughter. Some times they would boldly say something to her. "Mmm, beautiful!" Things like that.
She looked at her daughter. Her eyes were bright, her smile was beautiful, and she was pleasingly shy. There was a soft calmness about her face. She was only a child but she was blooming like a flower. No wonder the boys were looking at her.
"Hak Ja ya," her mother said, puttting her arm around her shoulders."Do you know that you must not love any boy?"
"Yes, I understand, Omma," she answered promptly, as if she had already thought about it. But did she really understand? Mrs. Hong could only worry.
One day, a letter came to their house addressed to Hak Ja Han. When she opened it, her face reddened, and she tried to hide it.
"What's that?" her mother asked. Hak Ja Han handed the letter to her. As Mrs. Hong read it, her heart froze. It was from a boy, and he wrote, "Dear Hak Ja, I think you are beautiful. I love you very, very much."
"Do you know this boy?" asked her mother, trying to sound calm.
"He's just one of the boys at school," she answered.
"Well, daughter, please don't talk to him. Do you promise?"
"I promise, Omma," she said. She really wanted to do what was right. Unknown to her mother, she was already praying to be pure and to live for God. She even prayed for a pure husband.
In the days ahead, more things like this happened-more remarks on the street, more visitors, more letters. Mrs. Hong worried day and night.
"If it's like this now," she wondered, "what will happen when she is 13-or 16 years old?"
She thought about it. She prayed about it. An idea started coming into her head, but at first she dismissed it. It was too crazy. As she prayed, however, it became more clear. They must go away. They must live alone. She must give up everything to protect her daughter.
Download entire book in ZIP format
Table of Contents