Story of a Separated Family

The National Council of Churches in Korea calls the global Christian family for joint-prayer for reconciliation and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. NCCK shared the story, told by a former senior officer of the Council, as an example for the pain of many separated families.

Choi In-Jung was born in North Korea in 1927. He completed his higher education in one of the best universities in North Korea, became a labor party member and worked with the government transportation department. He married Lim Ki-Chun and they had four children. They made a happy family until he was dispatched to South Korea as a spy in 1964. Just two days after his arrival in the South he was arrested by the police and charged with espionage in 1967. He served a 23 years prison term and was released in 1988. He was 61 years old when he was released, which meant that he spent all of his golden age in prison. Then in 1990, just two years after his release, he was diagnosed with the last stages of liver cancer. He struggled with the cancer for almost a year and died on November 21 in the following year. Just few months before his death, he wrote an open letter to his wife in North Korea, saying that “my only wish before I die is to see you and our children and say sorry to them about all what happened to us.”

On October, 1991 just a month before his death, Choi sent his open letter to the Human Rights department of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) with which I worked as an executive secretary. His letter was full of deep feelings of suffering and sorrow, representing the tragic situation of Korea division. My department immediately contacted the Unification Ministry of the South Korean government to request a short meeting between Choi and his family. Fortunately the Unification Ministry accepted our request and asked us to send an application form by November 20. The meeting was scheduled for 20-30 minutes on December 31 in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjom. I contacted Choi, and he was very excited and happy about the news and agreed to travel from his place to Seoul on November 20 to submit the application form. But unfortunately he could not make it because of his worsening sickness. In the following day on November 21, he died, longing for his family in North Korea.

After his death we appealed the South Korean government to hand over his letter to his wife, but the government refused to do it, being afraid of facing thousands of similar requests from the separated families in South Korea. As far as I remembered, we were eventually able to deliver his letter to his wife with the help of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Through working for Choi, I have had a direct experience of pain and suffering caused by division. This is but one of many tragic stories heard in the Korean peninsula since the division.

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