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Sun Myung Moon, The Early Years, 1920-53

By Michael Breen

Chapter 8
Forty Days in Pyongyang

It took ten days for Sun-myung Moon and his companion, Moon Jong-bin, to reach Pyongyang. With their shaven heads, they were, on several occasions, mistaken for fleeing north Korean soldiers, but were able to convince south Korean troops and villagers along the way that they had just been released from prison.1 In his pocket, Moon carried the remainder of his prison rice powder. He was saving it as a gift for his followers in Pyongyang. The two men lived off rotten vegetables, which lay in the fields along the way.

Seven days out of prison, he composed a song of gratitude to God, which he called 'Blessing of Glory.'

Now the light of glory arises
like the sun that shines on high;
Now awaken into freedom.
O revive, you spirits, o revive!
Wake the mountains and the valleys;
Bring alive the springs of the earth.
Light the world forever with the light of your rebirth.
Light the world forever with the light of your rebirth.

We are called to bring back the glory
To the life of God above;
Now the Lord in His greatness
Fills the universe with tender love,
Ever seeking souls awakened,
Ever calling them to be free.
How shall I attend Him who is calling to me?
How shall I attend Him who is calling to me?

From the dark of death I awaken
And rejoice to live in grace;
When the one who came to save me
Holds me tenderly in His embrace,
I rejoice to feel the comfort
Of the love t le has for me
What a blessing of Glory, to rejoice eternally!
What a blessing of Glory, to rejoice eternally!

Now He lifts me up to embrace me
In the blessing that is mine;
What a blessing to receive Him
In a love so tender and divine;
How can I return the blessing?
Though in all my life I will try,
I can never stop feeling how unworthy am I.
I can never stop feeling how unworthy am I.2

When they arrived in Pyongyang, they went to the house of Sun-myung Moon's aunt, where he learned that some of his cousins had already gone to south Korea, but that his family was still in Sangsa-ri. They did not want to leave the family's land and hoped that, after the war, things would settle down. It would only have taken him three days to walk home, but he ignored his own longing to go home and, instead, looked for his followers. God had brought these people to him and he was responsible to God for them. The choice would have painful consequences. Six weeks later, when the Chinese forces poured into north Korea and began driving the United Nations forces back southwards, he would join the refugee trail south. He never saw his parents or his beloved brother again.3

He knew that, as he had arrived unexpectedly, any followers still in the city would feel guilty that they had not prepared a welcome for him. Indeed, years later, after more than thirty years as a leading disciple, Kim Won-pil said that he felt negligent for not having ignored the personal risk, and gone to Hungnam to wait for Moon to come out of prison.4 With this in mind, Moon decided against simply turning up on the doorstep. He asked Moon Jong-bin if he would go and tell Ok Se-hyun, who had visited him in prison, and Kim Won-pil, who lodged with her, that he was in Pyongyang.

Kim came immediately. He found Moon wearing the same clothes that the followers had given him during a prison visit, over two years earlier - ragged and torn, with cloth sown inside the lining for additional warmth. Although not emaciated, he looked ill. He coughed continuously. They went to Ok's house in the northern part of the city, near the Daedong River. There Moon mixed his rice powder with water, and cooked rice cakes in a pan for them.5

Many of the others who had attended Moon's services, before he was sent to prison, had joined the Christian exodus and gone to the South. But some were still in Pyongyang. He asked Kim Won-pil and Mrs. Ok to tell them that he had returned. Some, they found, had lost confidence in Moon, after his imprisonment. One refused to accept his letter from Kim Won-pil. Others, like Cha Sang-soon, were glad to hear that he was safe, but were unable to join him immediately because they had other priorities - how their families would survive the war.6

Kim also visited the In-the-Belly Church. He found that most of the group's members had been sent to labor camps or killed, but some remained in Pyongyang, where they believed their leader would one day return. one of the group's elders came to see Moon, but there was no lasting contact.

Moon sent Kim Won-pil and Moon Jong-bin to Mangil-ri, a village near Daepyong, four miles west of the city, where Pak Chong-hwa lived. The former prisoner's wife said he was staying at his cousin's house in the Pyongyang suburb of Sangsuku-ri where, on October 28, they found him nursing a broken left ankle.

"Sonseng-nim7 is in Mrs. Ok's house in Kyongsang-gol," Moon Jong-bin said.8 "He sent us to find you."

Pak clambered into a cart and they pulled him along. When they arrived at Kyongsang-gol, a wealthy area on a hillside with seven or eight houses with large grounds, Sun-myung Moon came down the hill to greet him.

"You thought you were going to die, didn't you?" he said to Pak. But why would you die if I was coming to find you?" Pak burst into tears.

"I thought you had been released and I know you promised to contact me, but I thought you weren't going to. I thought if I couldn't trust you, I couldn't trust anyone in the world," Pak said. As they pushed the cart up the hill, Moon held Pak's hand. Pak explained what had happened since his release.

"It took me four days to get to Pyongyang," he began. He had walked and hitch-hiked on military trucks. When he arrived in the city, he went, as Moon had asked, to the house of Moon's follower, Kim Chong-hwa. He found it empty. She had already left for south Korea. He went home to his village, where his wife and her parents had been taking care of their five children, and he started working there, in his cousin's rubber factory.

"As the UN forces approached, the Communists hid. Local hooligans formed a patrol to catch them, and they got hold of me and beat me up. That's how I broke my leg. When the UN troops arrived, they asked for the three worst Communists, and I was handed over."

"There were over a hundred people in the cell. Three or four got called every night for interrogation. I don't know what happened to them. They didn't come back, so we figured they were shot. After about two or three weeks, I was called with two other people. Well, I thought this was it. Now it was my turn. At that moment I didn't think of my family. I thought if only I could meet Sonseng-nim one last time. I felt forsaken by God, like Jesus on the cross. But the UN soldiers, who were south Koreans, decided that because I had been in Hungnam prison, I was all right, and I was released with the other two. I didn't want to go back home straight away, because I thought it might still be dangerous, so I went to stay at my cousin's house."

Moon listened intently to the story. "The other two were released thanks to you. They were able to benefit from the protection God gives you for following his will," he said.

The four men stayed at Mrs. Ok's house. Ok and her two youngest daughters, Woo Jong-soon and Woo Jong-ae, cooked their meals, and did their washing. Most of the time the men rested, recovering slowly from their long prison ordeal. Every evening, they held a short service, and Moon would speak to them about prison life, and about the future, and the coming kingdom of God. When Ok's husband, who had gone to Seoul and been drafted into the south Korean army, returned, and her seven other children came to stay, the guests left. They took a rented room in Sosong-ri, in the western part of the city, from an old woman whose family had moved south.

On November 26, Chinese troops began pouring across the Korean border in support of the north Koreans. The United Nations forces started falling back. Once again the tide of the war was turning. Religious believers, landowners, anti-Communists, and ordinary north Koreans fearful of the massive American bombing raids over north Korea, joined the refugee trail south. The order went out to evacuate Pyongyang. Many young men, fearing reprisals by the Communists or worried that they might be drafted into the north Korean army, fled. They left their families behind expecting to return in a few months when the hostilities were over.

On December 3, Pak Chong-hwa's cousin turned up at the house. She said she would take him to her home and arrange for Pak's son to come and fetch him.

"I'11 wait till my leg gets better and then come south, " Pak told Moon and his companions.

"O.K., we'll see you in south Korea," Moon said. She pulled Pak away in a two-wheeled cart.

Before he left, Moon wanted to track down one of the last members of his old congregation. Kim Won-pil eventually found the follower, an eighty year-old woman, ill and near death. He had to yell in her ear to make her understand that Moon had returned from prison. She appeared to be pleased at the news. When Kim arrived back at the lodging house with the news that he had found the woman, Moon stood up.

"That ends our work in Pyongyang. It is now time for us to leave," he said.

At 3 p.m., Mrs. Ok arrived with the news that her son, a second lieutenant in the south Korean military police, had arranged for the family to go in an army truck. "You must come too, but we must hurry. They're waiting at the Sudokyo Bridge," she said.

Moon, Kim Won-pil, Moon Jong-bin and Ok arrived at the bridge one hour later. Ok's son was not happy to see that his mother had brought Moon. Her family, who were Protestants, had resented her association with Moon from the start.9

"Can the person who destroyed our family ride on this truck?" he said. "Impossible." He refused to let Moon on board. Ok was upset and embarrassed.

"It's all right," Moon said. "You go, and we will see you in the South."

Mrs. Ok climbed aboard and the truck drove off. The three men were now left with no choice, but to walk to south Korea. Moon felt unsettled about the trek. There would have been some symbolic justice in being driven to safety by the family of one of his Christian followers. After all, it was the Protestants whose opposition had led to his ordeal in prison. It would also have been safer, as Ok's son was a south Korean soldier. But now, three young men travelling without wives and children, could easily be mistaken for infiltrating Communist soldiers.

They walked to Pak's cousin's house in Sangsuku-ri. Pak was still there. His cousin helped them prepare food and money for the journey. That night, they were unable to sleep because of the noise of explosions, as United Nations troops blew up their ammunition supplies before fleeing the city. One blast broke the windows. The city glowed with the fires caused by the explosions.

In the morning, Moon stood at the porch looking down the slope over the city. He called the others over.

"I came to make Pyongyang the Second Jerusalem, but it rejected me and sent me to prison." He was crying as he spoke. "Pyongyang will fall into the hands of Satan, and so we have no choice now but to leave."

They tied packages of rice and other necessities on the frame of a delivery bicycle. Kim carried a rucksack with extra food. Almost all soldiers and police had already left the city. UN planes bombed the iron bridge, the pedestrian bridge and another makeshift bridge across the river to slow down the advancing Chinese. Moon and his followers left at 9 a.m. and with no place to cross the river, headed west for Pak's village, taking it in turns to push Pak on the bicycle.

After nine hours' walking, they arrived at Pak's house in Mangil-ri, where there were about thirty relatives and friends, many travelling south, staying overnight. Moon prayed about the journey that lay ahead.

The four men were given dinner in Pak's room and prepared to spend the night.

"Even though we're tired we should cross the river tonight," Moon said.

"But he's got a broken leg," Pak's father said. "He can't travel like that. "

"No, it's OK, father, I should go with them," Pak said. He had learned to trust Moon's intuition from his experience in prison. Pak's daughter offered to come with them, but Pak's father overruled her and said she should stay.

"Don't worry, we can take care of him," Moon said. Moon turned to Jong-bin. In his prayers, Moon had felt that he should travel in a group of three, not four. He asked Jong-bin to stay at Pak's house.

"Alright, I'll come south as soon as I can," Jong-bin said.

Pak told his wife he would return soon, but thinking back to Moon's words at his cousin's house that morning, he wondered how long it would be."10

It took Moon, Pak and Kim only ten minutes to walk to the river. Pak's cousin had arranged for a boat with a friend. They rowed across to Horam-ri, a small village on the other side of the river and headed south. 

Refugees scramble over damaged Daedong River bridge in Pyongyang during the Korean War (Yonhap News Agency, Seoul)Photo of the Korean War (Yonhap News Agency, Seoul)