It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
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Seung-Whan (Steven) Kim is a South Korean/American businessman and leading human rights advocate described by ABC news as “a face and a voice on behalf of suffering North Koreans.” After serving four years in a Chinese prison camp for rescuing North Korean refugees, Kim returned to the U. S. and founded 318 Partners, a humanitarian organization that continues the work he began, focusing especially on the plight of trafficked North Korean women and children being sold into the sex trade. Kim and his wife are the parents of three grown children and live in Huntington, New York.
Carl Herzig, PhD, is a professor of English at St. Ambrose University where he teaches sacred poetry, contemporary fiction, and creative writing. He is a fellow of the National Writing Project and reviewer for a variety of literary and creative arts journals. Dr. Herzig has served as an Iowa Humanities Scholar and evaluator for the Hearst Foundation U.S. Senate Youth Program, the Iowa Humanities Board, and the Illinois Council for the Humanities.
Visit the authors’ website.
Seung-Whan (Steven) Kim was a successful but self-absorbed businessman living the American dream as a South Korean-turned-American citizen when he felt God calling him to intervene on behalf of North Korean refugees. In 2003 Kim was arrested in China for harboring and helping refugees escape through an underground railroad. He would serve four years in prison camps where his faith flourished despite the harsh environment. Immersing himself in Scripture and prayer, he secretly lead fellow inmates and their guard to Christ at great personal risk. Today Kim’s refugee mission continues and he’s known as a powerful voice for human rights, especially North Korean women and children being trafficked for profit. The Fearless Passage of Steven Kim serves as an inspiring reminder of what God can accomplish through one willing and obedient heart.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (March 14, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
New YorkSaturday, May 31, 1975
“Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.”
Though already twenty-seven, Steven Kim felt like an excited teen as he stepped onto the tarmac at New York’s Kennedy Airport. His heart was bursting with an overwhelming sense of possibility, his head swimming with American-Dream visions of unbridled prosperity. He knew some English, if not as much as he thought, and crossed to the terminal with every assurance that a bright future awaited him around the first corner.
Steven had dreamed of this moment for almost twenty years, ever since he and his classmates in South Korea had studied English as a second language in middle school. For him, the United States had always been a nation of salvation; a champion-state of equality, individualism, and democracy; a bastion of both personal and political freedom. In the late 1960s, he had gone so far as to volunteer to fight alongside American forces in Vietnam.
And the U.S. was a mostly Christian nation, Steven knew. There would even be Korean churches like the ones he’d grown up with back home, established by Korean immigrants generations before, in the early the twentieth century. In South Korea, the number of churches was increasing dramatically, and there were already more Korean Christians than there were adherents to any of the country’s other religions. By this point, Steven figured, there must be tens of thousands of Korean Christians in America, and plenty of churches in New York from which to choose.
Most important for Steven, the American flag had become for him, as it had for Koreans in every walk of life, a banner of unlimited economic promise and business opportunity. For them, the U.S. was the place to go if you wanted to become rich. Wages were higher across the board, even at the lowest level, and one’s earnings, he believed, in the tradition of Horatio Alger, were in direct proportion to how hard you were willing to work. It was simple ingwa ŭngbo, cause and effect, based on initiative and poram, worthiness. The U.S. economy was less vulnerable to market fluctuations than Korea’s, and, in stark contrast to Korea’s highly politicized atmosphere, family and political connections in the U.S. were not always required for commercial success. All one needed, Steven thought, were initiative and a willingness to work hard—and he was chock-full of both.
The long path that had brought him to America hadn’t been easy, though. He’d been born Kim Seung-Whan to Korean parents in Seoul, South Korea, in 1949, just a year before the outbreak of the Korean War, and had grown up in a world full of violence, poverty, and hunger.
Seung-Whan’s father, Kim Ki-Hong, was from Sineuju, a lumber town on the northwestern border across the Yalu River from China, and had spent his youth in the town of Sariwon. After high school, Ki-Hong went to Japan to study photography, and he later moved to China and opened a studio in Beijing, where he lived for over ten years, earning a respectable income as a well-regarded photographer.
During the Second World War, Ki-Hong joined the Chinese Army to fight the Japanese, whose brutal, genocidal occupation of Korea had lasted thirty-five years, since 1910. When the war ended, he was still relatively young, and his army service earned him the freedom of travel. He chose to return to his “liberated” homeland in the north.
Ki-Hong arrived in Sariwon expecting to help build a new, free Korean society. With the 1945 division of the once-unified country at the 38th parallel, however, he found that one occupying force—the Japanese—had been replaced by another: the Soviets. Conditions were just as repressive as they had been under Japanese rule, in some ways even worse. Many of the Soviet soldiers stationed in North Korea had been criminals and prisoners. Now, disdainful of what they saw as a subhuman foreign populace and free to act on even their grossest desires, they rampaged through the towns and countryside, taking what they liked; raping women and young girls, often in front of their parents, husbands, and children; and pillaging family homes and property. Anyone who protested their behavior was mercilessly beaten or executed on the spot.
Ki-Hong had never considered himself a communist or espoused an overtly political position, but neither had he been averse to the philosophy. Now, however, his hatred of the occupation forces caused him to despise all communists, and he did so with a vengeance, not making a distinction between Soviets and Chinese. He helped organize an underground resistance group called Young Friends against Soviet Soldiers, comprised mostly young North Koreans, whose goal was to protect the citizenry and fight against the new army of foreign invaders. Every night, they went out into the streets to search out isolated Soviet soldiers to kill and confiscate their weapons.
Ki-Hong was one of the leaders of the emerging grassroots resistance, but his position was difficult to keep secret. Other members of the community became aware of his role, and within months, an infiltrator in the Young Friends exposed him publicly and informed the Soviets of his identity. Suddenly Ki-Hong was on the run, a wanted man, facing sure execution if apprehended. Only with the help of a few trusted friends was he was able to disappear, eluding the search and, in 1946, escaping to South Korea.
When he arrived in Seoul, Ki-Hong sought out like-minded activists. Still filled with hatred for the Soviets in the north, he searched for the most anti-communist group he could find and eventually joined the influential West-North Youth League.
As he had in the north, Ki-Hong helped direct the anti-communist campaign. But he no longer needed to conduct his activities underground, since he had the support of the South Korean government. He and his fellow activists searched the country for communist sympathizers and North Korean agents. Eventually, his role was formalized, and after the war he joined the South Korean police. Now it was his job to arrest communists and send them to prison. Fluent in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, he soon rose to the rank of detective, and he remained there until his retirement.
Ki-Hong soon met and married a South Korean woman, Hong Do-Won. And on April 17, 1949, in Seoul, the couple celebrated the birth of their first child, a son, named Seung-Whan.
One of Seung-Whan’s few early or happy memories of his father was riding on the back of his motorcycle down a dusty city street. But Ki-Hong never really committed to either his wife or his child. They rarely ate or enjoyed activities as a trio, and the family didn’t hold together for very long. In 1956, when Steven was six, his father left to live with another woman.
For the next six years, until Ki-Hong returned for good, Do-Won was without her husband or the benefits of his income; he didn’t send them anything or stay in touch. As a single mother without other means of support, she was forced to work long hours in the nearby textile mills to keep herself and her son housed, clothed, and fed.
Ki-Hong’s mother, Grandma Hong In-Sung, remained a part of their lives. A proud woman of strong Christian faith, she looked after Seung-Whan’s religious upbringing, taking him to church and Sunday school every week. When he was sick, or pretending to be, he might miss school, but he never missed church; his grandmother would go so far as to carry him there on her back, if she had to. After the war, he later remembered, she would always iron paper money for him to place in the offering basket, even when times were lean.
Despite the witness of Grandma In-Sung, church was more a social opportunity than a spiritual experience for Seung-Whan. He had been born into a Christian family and had attended worship services for as long as he could remember, so he didn’t feel as if there was anything more for him to learn; he just practiced without thinking. Unlike the many South Koreans who converted to Christianity during and after the war, Seung-Whan was hardly conscious of the tenets of his faith; being a Christian was just like being a member of a family, in his eyes—a birthright, not a belief. His converted friends had to learn about who Jesus was and what He had taught—for them, a whole new philosophy—but Seung-Whan never really thought about those things. They were automatic, routine.
“I didn’t know Jesus Christ personally,” he said years later. “‘Jesus Christ—oh yeah, I believe in Jesus Christ,’ I always said, but inside I didn’t really know who He was.”
At age fifteen, Seung-Whan sang in the church choir and helped teach Sunday school, but he wasn’t moved by the services or inspired by the knowledge the ministers passed down; he didn’t feel anything inside. As he grew older, he continued to tithe money to the church, but in his life outside, he did whatever he wanted, not treating Sundays—let alone any other day of the week—as God’s.
Like all South Korean children, Seung-Whan learned English in school and developed a steadfast belief in “the land of the free.” He pushed himself hard in his lessons and made friends with American officers serving as volunteer teachers. To him, the United States was both a land of opportunity and a refuge from communist oppression.
In the early 1960s, when the Vietnam conflict had expanded into a full-fledged battle between the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government and the communist north, South Korea provided the second-largest contingent of foreign troops. Never having left Korea, Seung-Whan was desperate to see the world, but no one could travel abroad without fulfilling his compulsory military duty. And so, immediately upon graduating, Seung-Whan enlisted with the Korean army, along with 320,000 of his compatriots.
Despite having grown up in a war-torn land, his youthful exuberance blinded him to the dangers of fighting. As luck would have it, he landed a job in the Educational Department of the 36th Regiment of the South Korean Army’s Operational Command Post, where he was tasked with preparing annual education timetables for the entire regiment. Although he was safe in his position, he was restless; he wanted to fight. Four times he applied for a transfer to combat duty, hoping to join the American forces on the ground in Vietnam. His job was vital to the regiment, though, and not everyone had the ability do it, so none of his four applications were supported or forwarded by his commanding officer. Seung-Whan was destined to serve his nation from the peaceful security of operational headquarters.
Upon completion of his term of duty, Seung-Whan returned to civilian life and decided that he wanted to go back to school. He’d always excelled in academics, and he knew that a degree could serve as a gateway to a more fulfilling life. To his disappointment, however, he wasn’t able to afford the tuition, nor could he obtain a scholarship to help cover the expenses. So, he accepted a paid position as tour director with church-run cultural youth group.
Seung-Whan enjoyed his job coordinating appearances for the young performers, and it satisfied his appetite for travel, but it still wasn’t what he was looking for in terms of a career. He wanted to succeed financially—to earn “real” money. This, he decided, should be his main focus. And so, after considering the best places in the world to launch a prosperous career, he weighed his options and turned his attention to his capitalist dreamland: the United States.
When Seung-Whan arrived in New York, the Korean and Vietnam wars were over, the last of the American troops having been lifted out of the chaos of Saigon just weeks earlier. The world was entering a new, modern age, based on the evidence all around him, and New York would be the center of global commerce—it was the place to be. He could hardly believe his good fortune as he set foot on U.S. soil for the first time. He had even adopted an English name to fit his new identity—Steven Kim. And he felt sure that nothing could hold him back.
Steven’s most pressing challenge was money—he was practically broke. With just a few bills in his pocket and not a penny more to his name, he needed to find a job immediately, that very day. Whatever work he could find, he told himself—whatever he was offered—he would do. I’ll do anything, he decided as he passed through customs. If I don’t work, I’ll die.
Fortunately, Steven had a contact—a high school friend who had come to the States a few years before and, like so many other Korean immigrants in New York since the beginning of the 1970s, opened a fresh produce store.
In 1960, only around four hundred Koreans lived in New York City, many of them students at Columbia University. By the end of the decade, however, Koreans had become the fastest-growing ethnic group of small-business owners in America’s largest metropolitan area.
Early on, the Koreans mostly sold wigs and other Korean-made goods or subcontracted in the garment industry. Then, first in the poorer minority neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, Koreans began buying up grocery stores from their American owners, who were retiring at an increasing rate. They also set up shop in vacant, abandoned buildings. Many of these entrepreneurs had come from Korea with experience managing or working in small retail outfits. Now, grocery stores, produce shops, and fruit stands owned and run by recent immigrants from Korea were sprouting up weekly on almost every block and street corner in the residential districts of Manhattan. Some of these businesses operated around the clock seven days a week to take full advantage of the “City That Never Sleeps.”
Without question, Steven was ready and willing to do his part. Before the sun had set on his first day in New York, he had a job selling fruit and vegetables in his family friend’s produce shop in Massapequa, on Long Island, just an hour’s train ride east of Manhattan.
The next morning, the owner walked Steven through the shop, pointing out bins and crates brimming with unfamiliar produce. “What’s this long green thing?” Steven asked in Korean. “What do you call that red one?” He was practically bursting with questions and nervous enthusiasm. He could barely wait to start.
“You have your work cut out for you,” the owner said. And he was right. But Steven didn’t mind hard work. Neither did he mind getting up before dawn to prepare the store for opening, nor staying late into the night, long after the last of the evening customers had returned home, to shut it down. He quickly learned almost all of the hundreds of names for the fruits and vegetables for sale in America, and it didn’t take long for his English to improve enough for him to converse comfortably with Korean and American customers alike.