A Picture of Set-Apartness

Korea, 1939

Esther was a bright young Korean woman who had just begun her career as a music teacher at a Christian school when her life was forever changed in a single moment of decision. One morning as school began, a stern-looking woman approached her. Esther glanced up. It was the school principal. The principal told her that Japanese authorities (who controlled Korea) were requiring students and teachers from all the schools in the area to travel to the shrine of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess, in order to worship there. "Get your students ready-we must get there on time," said the woman in a firm voice. Esther's jaw tightened in defiance at the words. As a devoted follower of Christ, how could she ever agree to worship at the shrine of an idol? The very idea caused her stomach to turn.

The principal saw the rebellion in Esther's face and became irritated. "You think you are the only Christian here?" she lashed out angrily. "You think you are the only one who does not want to bow to heathen gods? We all hate to do such a thing, but we are being persecuted by a power too ruthless to stand against. Unless we worship at the Japanese shrine, they will close this school!" Esther considered the principal's words. She saw the fear in the other woman's eyes. She understood the dilemma the school was in. The principal, along with many other Korean Christians in the city, felt that they had no choice but to go along with the Japanese authorities in order to protect themselves and their families from imprisonment, torture, and even death. But what about the words of Jesus Christ when He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life"? How could these Christian leaders go directly against Him by compromising with idolatry?

The principal was still waiting for a reply. When Esther remained silent, the principal's face grew hard. "You can see how much trouble you will cause this school if you fail to cooperate," she said harshly, "but you don't seem to care about that. You are only thinking of yourself!"

Finally Esther spoke. "Okay-I will go to the shrine," she said quietly, moving toward the stairs.

The principal hurried after her. "And you will worship at the shrine, too, right?" she questioned anxiously. Esther did not answer.

On the long trek to the shrine, with her students following silently behind her, Esther searched her heart. She knew when she arrived at the place of worship she would be forced to make a life-altering choice. She fixed her eyes on the vast sky beyond the hills and thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when they were commanded to bow to the statue of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The three young men had decided that even if God did not choose to save them from the burning fire, they would die honoring Him.

At that moment, Esther knew what she would do. Even though all the other Christians had decided that outwardly bowing to the idol was acceptable as long as they continued to worship Christ in their hearts, Esther could make no such compromise. She would not bow to any other but the one true God. Defying the Japanese warlords would most likely mean torture and imprisonment, but Esther decided that she would not live her youthful life for herself. She would offer it fully to her Prince, Jesus Christ. She said a silent prayer to Him. Today on the mountain, before the large crowd, I will proclaim that there is no other god but You, she declared.

Esther's group was the last to arrive at the shrine. A huge crowd had gathered, standing in straight, respectful lines, afraid to move because of the cruel gazes of the Japanese policemen. A few of the authorities eyed Esther and her students in disapproval as they joined the rest of the worshipers. Esther's heart began to pound with dread for what she was about to do. A sense of uneasiness swept over her, and she silently repeated the Lord's Prayer over and over. Lord, she prayed, I am so weak! Please help me do this-watch over me as I stand for You.

"Attention!" came the commanding voice of one of the officials. The crowd stood in silence and submission. "Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami!" As he shouted the words, the entire group bent the upper half of their bodies, bowing solemnly before the shrine. Esther was the only one who remained standing, looking up at the sky. The fear and uncertainty that had gripped her just moments before had vanished. Calmness and peace flooded her. She had done what her Prince had asked her to do. On the long walk back to the school, Esther continued her dialogue with her Master. I have done what I should have done, she prayed passionately. Now, I commit the rest to You. I died today on that mountain-now it is only You who lives through me. I leave everything in Your hands.

When Esther arrived back at the school, four detectives were waiting for her. Years of intense suffering for her Lord were about to begin. But something had happened to Esther that day in front of the shrine, something that changed her forever. She was no longer afraid of what men could do to her; her life was only a tool in the hands of her Lord. While others gave in to their fear, she had stood to protect what was most sacred in her life-her relationship with her Prince, Jesus Christ. It was a treasure she was determined to guard at all costs, even with her very life.

Esther was willing to be set apart from among all other young women in her generation by fearlessly protecting what was sacred. Her life was used incredibly by God as a result. She spent six harrowing years in Japanese prisons, changing the lives of both prisoners and guards by her amazing example of sacrificial love for her Prince. Her incredible story was published as a book in Korea and became the all-time religious bestseller there, igniting the spark of courage and hope in the hearts of countless Christians.

Today, examples of young women who fearlessly sacrifice their safety, comfort, and very lives to protect the Truth of Jesus Christ are incredibly rare. Most Christian young women in today's culture balk at the thought of truly living a set-apart life for their Prince, let alone dying for Him. But in every generation, there are a few who make another choice-a choice to heroically guard their sacred relationship with their Prince, no matter what the cost. Are you willing to be one of the few?

(from Leslie Ludy's book "Authentic Beauty" pg. 153-157)

(original book: Esther Ahn Kim, If I Perish. Chicago, Moody Press, 1979)

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  1. Very moving story, Marcella...thank you so much for sharing it. I love you and we are all missing you!! God bless you as you seek to be faithful in your ministry.

  2. Aww, thanks so much Mattie Marie! I miss you too! Let's be one of the few ;) Love yaa..!

  3. that was a powerful story and the determination she showed up before the authorities. God is worthy in His promise. Amen!

  4. Hi, I just found and read this article. Since I've been living in Korea for years, somehow I can imagine her situation in the story. Thank you for giving me courage through the story. God bless you :)


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