“Certainly there are things in life that money can’t buy, but it’s very funny – Did you ever try buying then without money?” – Ogden Nash
Today we travel from the Chinese dissident saga surrounding Chen Guangcheng to the recently released Escape from Camp 14, the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born into a North Korean gulag and eventually escaped to freedom in South Korea. I haven’t read the book yet (it’s on my list), but it’s getting a lot of headlines recently so it seemed a good time to take up the subject again.
The reviews indicate that it tells the story you would expect. Shin is born into the prison camp, the product of “reward marriage” whereby two prisoners are allowed to have sex to produce a child. He is beaten and tortured and brought up to understand his own worthlessness and subjugation to the system. What results is a person whose humanity has been utterly corrupted and corroded. He even snitches on his mother and brother as they plan an escape, and then watches as they get what they deserve – execution. Eventually Shin is paired with someone who came from outside the camp in order to snitch on him as well. Instead they become friends and make a break for it, but his friend is electrocuted at the fence, and Shin uses the corpse to shield himself as he climbs through.
Above is an aerial shot of Camp 14. Right now, right in this very moment, there are people down there being starved to death, being tortured and tormented and abused. People wondering if there is any meaning at all to life, any hope at all, anything but pain and suffering. How much are their lives worth?
Let me spin it another way. My wife and I support an India-based ministry that rescues young girls who have been sold into a life of sexual slavery in the massive brothels of Bombay and other cities. Little girls, often sold as pre-teens into a life of abuse – for hundreds of dollars. While I’m astute enough regarding market forces to know that simply entering the exchange to buy one of these girls away from the brothel (or the upstream seller) doesn’t change the equation – the thought still crosses my mind. I’d buy her. I’d pay $300 just to keep that little girl from that life. I’d buy an airline ticket to have her flown here and I’d find a safe place for her to live. I’d spend that money.
The North Korean regime is on the edge of collapse, and I hope its collapse comes soon. The last thing I’d want is to prop up such a regime (unlike Jimmy Carter), which is exactly what hard currency would serve to do. And yet I face the same question. How much, Kim Jong-Un? What’s the price for one of those bedraggled slaves you have tucked away in Camp 14? Would $200 do it? How about $1000? Would you sell me one? Bring him to the gate at the 38th parallel, I’ll arrange transit and care from there. In fact, I’ll make you an even better deal – bring me the one you really don’t want any more. The one who can’t work anymore, or who has some deformity that you find grotesque. Bring me that one. I want him. I want her. I’ve got a little bit of money here, let’s make a deal.
Mr. Kim, bring me the one that only has two weeks to live and can’t possibly pick any more corn or cut any more wood for you. Their entire life has been a thing derided and scorned by you, but the last two weeks still mean something to me. I’ll put them in a warm, safe bed somewhere and give them a meal. I’ll tell them softly but plainly that no matter what has happened up to now, no matter what hardships, torture, and oppression they’ve seen, that somebody in this world loves them. That would be enough for me.
Is not this the gospel of Christ? We were all born into slavery, corrupted by sin and denied what we were created to be. Counted as worthless by the world, counted as “lesser” by angelic beings (“what is man that you are mindful of him?”) and yet the Lord said “I’ll take them. I’ll buy them from you, even though the price is the death of my only Son, I’ll take them. Give me these bedraggled slaves, these grotesque things, these worthless ones … the least of these. I’ll pay the price. I want them. I have something of value here, let’s make a deal.”
Wherever you find yourself today, whether you have 80 years or 8 days to live, your life still matters to God. You still matter to God, and He whispers softly but plainly to you: “I love you.” He holds out His hand to say “come be with Me.” The rest of your days are still a thing of value to Him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16