These Are the Generations: The Story of How One North Korean Family Lived Out the Great Commission for More Than Fifty Years in the Most Christian-Hostile Nation in Human History. By Mr. and Mrs. Bae with Eric Foley. Colorado Springs, CO: DotW Publishing, 2012. 120 pages. Paper, $9.95.
To most people, North Korea is shrouded in mystery and vaguely understood to be one of the most repressive nations on earth. Few people remember that its capital, Pyongyang, used to be known as the “Jerusalem of the East,” because of a great revival that occurred there in 1907. Today, it is virulently anti- Christian. But at one time, North Korea was the most Christian part of Asia. That all changed at the end of WWII, when the Korean peninsula was divided into two occupied zones and the north was placed under Soviet control. After that, North Korea quickly devolved into the evil Communist regime we are familiar with today. These Are the Generations shines a light on the true horror of living in North Korea, as experienced by one Korean family.
The book’s greatest strength is the window it provides into the daily life, aspirations, and struggles of the average North Korean.
For example, it was fascinating to read of Mr. Bae’s attempts to become a member of the Communist Party, which would ensure his family enjoyed a better standard of living. The way into the Party was through the military, so Mr. Bae joined the Korean People’s Army (where no one gets paid!, p. 42), and he moved up through the ranks based on his ability to play volleyball and the accordion: “By the time I completed my military service, I had trained approximately three hundred people how to play the accordion” (p. 43). He excelled in his military career and eventually did join the Communist Party, only to be imprisoned after telling a friend about the Ten Commandments (pp. 52-53). The prison conditions Bae described were truly horrific: “Up at 5:00 a.m…Then I had to sit cross-legged with my hands on my knees in the same position for the next seventeen hours. I was not permitted to turn my neck or slouch with my back” (p. 54). Any movement incurred swift punishment, such as getting beaten senseless with a rod. After a year, Bae was released, which in itself was a minor miracle.
Mrs. Bae offered her own perspective on living in North Korea. She explained that the fear that husband and wife will betray each other to the Communist party is so strong, that it sometimes takes years before enough trust is built up between them that they will reveal their faith to one another (p. 83). And the book ends with her harrowing escape from North Korea, accompanied by her young children, following mountains paths into China, Laos, and Thailand, until finally settling in South Korea, where she was not allowed to see her husband until a lengthy process of naturalization had ended.
As eye-opening as these stories were, there is a major problem with the book. The back cover says that it tells the story of how “one North Korean family received and passed on the gospel from generation to generation.” However, there is little or no indication that Mr. and Mrs. Bae, or their family, knew the gospel, even in a limited sense.
Judging from their testimonies, Mr. and Mrs. Bae definitely came to have faith in God, tried to live their lives according to the Ten Commandments (e.g., pp. 31, 52, 56, 61, 87), and believed in the importance of prayer and repentance (pp. 82, 87). Beyond that, they may have had a vague familiarity with the stories of Genesis (creation, Noah’s ark, Sodom, p. 111). But there is little evidence that they had a specifically Christian faith.
Jesus is only named or alluded to a handful of times in the book (pp. 85, 92, 104, 110). And there is no mention of His death, atonement for sin, resurrection, or ascension. And the Baes never profess to believe in Jesus for everlasting life (or for justification).
If any gospel was passed on through their family, it was belief in a generic form of theism where blessings and curses depended upon obedience to the Ten Commandments. It’s possible that Mr. and Mrs. Bae (and their grandparents) did have saving faith in Christ, and simply failed to mention it in the book. If so, that is quite an oversight on the part of the editors. However, if obedience to the Ten Commandments passes as the “gospel” among North Korean Christians, then the country is even darker than we knew.
This book is recommended for its insight into the truly horrible persecution and living conditions experienced in North Korea.
Shawn C. Lazar
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society