Mother of Peace: Episode 13
Mother of Peace: And God Shall Wipe Away All Tears from Their Eyes
A Memoir by Hak Ja Han Moon
Chapter 2: I Came Into This World As The Only Begotten Daughter, pg 51-56
South Korea was a strange place to us. Having never been to Seoul, we had no idea how we could survive, and we were getting lost constantly. We also had lost the moorings of our faith; the hope to meet the returning Lord was indeed floating in the clouds. We had no money and no skills by which to make a living. We camped in a shabby, empty house and barely made it through each day. All we could do was talk to people.
Our most urgent task was to find my maternal uncle Soon-jeong. He was the only person we could depend on in South Korea, and we were hoping he was somewhere in Seoul. My mother pleaded in prayer, “What should I do to find my younger brother?” She prayed most earnestly every day to find her brother on whom she could rely. We devoted ourselves to this search by visiting clinics and pharmacies.
Then we received an unexpected blessing from God. We met a man on the street who turned out to be a friend of my uncle’s. This was indeed God’s providential help. His friend told us that Uncle Soon-jeong was serving at the Army Headquarters in Seoul’s Yongsan district. After returning from Japan, he had graduated from the College of Pharmacy in Seoul and then received training as a pharmaceutical officer in the Korea Military Academy. He was currently serving as a first lieutenant.
This kind man took us to Yongsan, and what a reunion it was! Soon-jeong was delighted to see his mother, sister and niece. He had no idea of the conditions in the North and was so distressed to hear of what we had gone through to get to Seoul. He immediately rented a small room for us in Hyochang-dong.
* * *
Our life in the South soon stabilized. I entered Hyochang Primary School and, in the free land of South Korea, began going to school for the first time. I loved going to school with my bag of books every day. The older residents of the neighborhood would pat me on the head, and the neighborhood children also liked me very much. Looking back, I find it interesting that our rented room was close to Cheongpa-dong, the neighborhood in which, seven years later, we would end our search for the Lord at the Second Advent. Until that day arrived, however, we endured many twists and turns on our odyssey.
While at Hyochang-dong, we heard the news that Jeong Seok-cheon, the eldest son of the founder of the Holy Lord Church, had settled in South Korea. We took it as a miracle and prayed that God would guide us to meet him. All in all, we praised God that my uncle was serving as an army officer, and that Jeong Seok-cheon’s family from the Holy Lord Church had come to the South. Without doubt, our Heavenly Parent prepared a path to protect the one called to serve humankind as the only begotten Daughter, the one to whom He would entrust the providence. Now that our physical pilgrimage had reached an oasis, it was time to renew our spiritual pilgrimage.
A blue flash of death
It was early on a hot summer morning. Red balsam flowers blossomed on one side of our courtyard, and thick, old willow and sycamore trees stood along the street. I was seven years old, but I remember the moment clearly, as a frantic neighbor burst into our living room with the words, “War has broken out! The North Korean army has crossed the 38th parallel!”
Apprehensive residents gathered in the alley in groups of two and three. I had been getting used to settled life in the South, but when the North Korean People’s Army launched their invasion, our short respite was over. Everyone was frightened, government reports mingled with rumors, and no one knew for sure what was going on.
What happened was that the South Korean interim government packed up and moved to the city of Daejeon, 90 miles to the south of Seoul. The government ordered the South Korean army to blow up the Han River Bridge, the only bridge across the Han River on the south side of Seoul. They expected North Korean troops to arrive in Seoul soon, and they had no means to protect the city. Their strategy was to prevent the communist army from crossing the river. They could do little or nothing to help the city’s residents, who were crying out for Seoul’s defense.
Two days later, my mother woke up at dawn and began packing our clothes in a bundle. Awakened by the rustling noise, I kept my eyes shut and listened to her conversation with my grandmother. “We have to seek refuge,” my mother said. “After the communists get here, they’ll kill us.”
“I know they are bad,” my grandmother responded, “but do you think they would treat women harshly?”
“If they find out we have escaped from the North,” my mother reasoned, “they probably will kill us on the spot.”
On the evening of June 27, 1950, two days after the start of the Korean War, Seoul residents streamed out of the city’s ancient neighborhoods under a gentle summer rain. The more they realized that they were not the only ones seeking to escape, and that they all had to cross the same bridge, the more serious and desperate they became. This was war. My grandmother, mother, and I joined the exodus with our bundle, following the throng moving toward the Han River Bridge. When its dim shape appeared in the dark, something told me to stop, and I grabbed my grandmother’s skirt. She stopped in her tracks, and my mother turned and asked her, “Mother, what’s wrong?”
Grandmother looked up at the sky and then glanced down at me. Then she turned her head again in the direction of our house. “Soon-jeong may come,” she said with a steady tone, speaking of her son, my uncle. It seemed senseless to turn around when everyone else was fleeing the city, but she was firm. “Let’s go back in case he does.”
My mother understood. The three of us made our way back home, fighting the crowds. When we got home, I spread out my blanket and lay down to sleep, but it was not long before I was awakened by the noise of a three-quarter-ton truck. Its headlights illuminated our room as the door suddenly burst open. There was my uncle in his military uniform. My grandmother and mother gasped sighs of relief and hope. I thought to myself, “We can leave now,” and felt at ease.
“Hurry,” he barked. “We have to move now!” Uncle Soon-jeong, based in the army headquarters as a military medic, was aware of the progress of the war. As soon as he heard that the South Korean army was preparing to destroy the Han River Bridge, he requisitioned a truck and sped to our home, knowing his family was in danger. He had left the truck with its engine running in our foggy alley. We climbed in with our already-packed bundle, and he drove toward the bridge. In the pre-dawn hours, crowds of refugees were swarming there from all directions, creating total chaos.
We moved forward at a snail’s pace on the congested street. As an army officer, my uncle had the official pass necessary to take a vehicle across the bridge. Honking the horn, he inched the truck through the crowd. Held in my mother’s arms, I clung to her and gazed at the people fleeing their homes, their fear and confusion increasing by the minute.
As soon as we had crossed the bridge, my uncle shouted, “Get down in your seats!” As I squeezed down on the floor at my mother’s feet, a huge explosion behind us shook our truck. There was a blue flash and a deafening sound. My uncle set the emergency brake and turned off the engine. Together we jumped out of the truck and clambered down into the ditch at the side of the road. I turned my face to the bridge and witnessed the next explosion. I saw a light like a demon’s burning eyes piercing the night. Countless civilians as well as soldiers and policemen who were crossing the bridge were thrown about like plastic toys, flying everywhere, cast into the river below. For us, a few meters proved to be the difference between life and death. Our lives had been spared.
I closed my eyes, and many thoughts flashed across my mind. Why would anyone start a war? Why did innocent people have to die? Why is God permitting such pain and suffering? Who can bring an end to this madness? I could not conceive of any answers. When I reopened my eyes, I saw that the bridge was cut in half. The military had accomplished its mission, at the cost of hundreds of lives. What remained amid the corpses, the screaming wounded, and the dazed survivors, was an ugly skeleton of steel, smoldering in the dark.