NORTH KOREA: Elite soldier finds faith after a fiery trial

North Korea R125
In North Korea even statues of the late Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il are venerated.


Elite soldier finds faith after a fiery trial

Ahn was a brainwashed servant of the North Korean regime but after a life-threatening drama and a desperate defection he now seeks to serve Christ and the gospel.

The day Ahn sought to save a portrait of Kim Il-Sung, the communist founder of North Korea, from a fire would change his life forever. In the providence of God it became his first step on the path to finding faith in Christ.

Ahn was born into an upper-class North Korean family that had faithfully served the country’s despotic Kim regime. ‘I can still recall what my father told me when I was seven: “Our family is a family that has faithfully served the Kim family. And you, too, when you become an adult will lay down your life for the Kim family and this country.”’

From a young age he received what he calls brainwashing at school about allegiance to the Kim dynasty and in his teens enlisted in an elite military unit which had three responsibilities: guarding the Kim houses and yachts; carrying out assassination and terror attacks; and perpetrating cyber- attacks. After passing the necessary tests Ahn, aged 17, joined the protection section. ‘We had to take a severe oath: “As long as I am serving in this unit I will not know any secrets that I am not supposed to know. And any secrets I do know I will not share with my family. And I promise that if I break this oath I will sacrifice my life.”’

Guarding the Kim yacht was an important role. During times of peace it was used for amusement, but if ever war broke out or the regime collapsed it would be used to help the Kim family flee the country.

Ahn eventually became captain of the guard in his unit but in May 2011 faced what he describes as a great trial in his life – one that he now looks back on as the providential working of God.

Ahn R125
Ahn, whose hands were badly burned saving a portrait of Kim Il-Sung, now follows Christ.

‘I was performing my regular observations when I heard a voice shout, “Fire!” When I went in the direction of the voice I saw that a fire had broken out in the living quarters. There were over ten people sleeping there, and they were hanging out of the window crying out, “Save us!” But the only thing I could think of was to save the portrait of Kim Il-Sung.’

(From a young age North Koreans are brainwashed to believe that the portrait is worth as much as the life of the Kim family itself. So, in the situation he found himself, rescuing a portrait on a wall became more important than saving human lives.)

Ahn retrieved the pictures, but was overcome by the smoke and flames. He lost consciousness but, as he later discovered, was saved by another soldier who entered the blazing room. He ended up spending several months in hospital where he underwent 40 surgical procedures; and during this time he admits to having felt suicidal.

Ahn Hands R125Ahn was supposed to be awarded a certificate for his bravery but instead received a phone call one day from an officer asking for a bribe to receive it. ‘I said, “Why are you making me pay for a certificate that I should receive?” As I began to argue with him he swore at me and said, “Do you think you are the only one who is special? Anyone in the same situation as you would have done the same thing.”’

Ahn felt deeply betrayed by the regime he had served faithfully and, as a result, began to question the ideology he had held all his life. Eventually he decided to defect – a decision that, to his great surprise, his father approved of! Ahn spent six months planning and preparing to leave, including obtaining poison so that, if arrested, he could kill himself.

Then in February 2014 he and his sister began the perilous journey out of North Korea. They spent a year in China before Ahn managed to make his way to South Korea. Sadly his sister was arrested in China before she could follow him and repatriated to North Korea where she was imprisoned. She was released in 2020 but by then her health was in such a poor condition that, a year later, she died, aged just 39. Ahn said: ‘Before she died she grabbed our mother’s arm and said she didn’t want to die. When I heard this story from my mother I felt a piercing pain in my life. I beat myself up that I was able to come to South Korea. I cried for many days.’

‘God touched the scars in my heart’

After Ahn arrived in South Korea, he quickly fell into depression. However, he met members of a church and through them began attending services. ‘I can remember when I met the Lord; one Friday night at a prayer meeting. I began to cry tears that I had held in for so long. God touched the scars that were in my heart.

‘So I began to reinterpret my life in the light of the gospel. And I began to dream new dreams in the Lord and to start a new life in the Lord. I had been rejected by the North Korean government and I had lived such a meaningless life but the Lord gave me new dreams and new hopes.’

Ahn, who is now married with a young son, has enrolled at a Bible seminary and is hopeful that one day the door will open for reunification in the Korean peninsula. ‘Then I will go to preach the gospel in my home town,’ he said.

Meanwhile he wants Christians in the West to remember that God loves the people of North Korea, though they are led by a brutal dictator. ‘You can forget about all of my story if you want,’ he said, ‘but don’t forget [the] people in North Korea. Pray for these souls whom God loves.’


Voice of the Martyrs Korea disciples North Koreans in the Christian faith; and trains believers for ministry that includes evangelism to North Koreans in third countries, sending scripture into North Korea and radio broadcasts.


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