Imagine living in constant fear that you might be arrested for being a Christian, and at the same time, being forced to worship another god. Would you be able to not only keep your faith, but also pray for your oppressors? Esther Anh Kim (also known as Anh Ei-Sook) lived in that exact scenario during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and under severe threat of arrest and even death, resolved never to renounce her faith in Jesus.
During the Japanese occupation, all Korean citizens were required to participate in state Shinto worship, bowing to the shrine of Japan’s sun goddess on the first of every month. In a scene reminiscent of Daniel during King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Anh refused to bow down to the shrine of Japan’s sun goddess, the only person standing upright while all else bowed down.
In doing so, she knew that she was to meet a near certain death, and Anh’s life from this point is truly an inspiration and challenge to my own faith. While on the run from the police, Anh’s prepared herself for prison by fasting for days at a time, and eating only rotten food. When God called her to go to Japan to warn the Japanese government of God’s judgment should they continue the persecution of Christians, she went despite her trepidation. She was eventually arrested and imprisoned, yet Anh never stopped trusting God and having compassion for her captors — and God never forsook her either!
It was evident that God was always with her through her six years of prison. When she was ill-treated by bad jailers, miraculously, many of them would fall sick or be transferred elsewhere where they could not torment her. When she was discouraged or downcast, God often encouraged her with Scripture and personal revelations of His love.
That said, life in prison was no walk in the park. Meals were intentionally mixed with sand to make it more unpleasant, and sickness was rife. She was also frequently starved and tortured along with common criminals, just because she was a Christian. All the same, Anh knew that her time in prison could be used to share the gospel, and while she was there, prisoners and jailers alike turned to Jesus. One prisoner in particular, a geisha named Sun Wha, was so moved by Anh’s sacrificial love that she put her faith in Christ. When Anh was finally released from prison, she was amazed to find out that Sun Wha had become an evangelist herself, making it her life’s mission to share the good news of Jesus!
"I HAD RESOLVED TO DIE A MARTYR, BUT I HAD FAILED." - ESTHER AHN KIM
The most encouraging thing to me is that Anh did not go through persecution alone. Many Christians prayed alongside her, were persecuted as well even though they were not in prison, and kept their faith strong throughout. At one point, Anh was so sickly that she started to go blind, and because of that, was allowed to leave the prison to seek treatment. Upon seeing her, her mother reprimanded her. “Many Christians are dying, but you can come home. Why do you worry about your eyes? Didn’t you give everything to the Lord, including your eyes?” Upon hearing that, Anh returned to prison without treatment, praising God for her mother’s wisdom and the reminder that her life is in God’s hands.
At the end of the war and upon her release, Anh reflected on her life in prison and said, “I had resolved to die a martyr, but I had failed.” While Anh to me is a shining example of faith and courage, she repeatedly states that her faith is even smaller than a mustard seed and more like “a butterfly in a storm,” easily shaken. It makes me think about the small faith I have, and whether it will be enough when serious persecution comes. Like Anh, perhaps all is needed is a small amount of unwavering faith, a steady trust in God’s goodness, and certainty that Jesus loves all, even those who stand against Him.