It wasn't a tall city with skyscrapers; rather, all the buildings were less than five stories tall so they wouldn't stand taller than the emperor's palace. Most of the people traveled by foot or bicycle.
As the end of their journey came into view, Mrs. Hong felt hopeful. Her brother might be here. Maybe- just maybe-a warm room awaited them.
She looked down at her daughter. "Such a good girl," she thought. "Never complaining, always optimistic. It's a sad thing, though, that her father never tried to work things out after she was born."
She glanced at her mother walking beside her. 'Of course, Omma WAS pretty tough on him, telling him to be adopted into our family and then making a big fuss when he wanted to take his daughter to live somewhere else. His pride was hurt." She sighed. "Well, at least I don't think about him much anymore." Another sigh. "Still, I sure could use some manly support sometimes." For one woman alone to care for two dependents was not easy in Korea.
Mrs. Soon-Ae Hong remembered the home they had left behind. The dirt roads of the village, the cottage with the thatched roof, the persimmon tree--those things they would see no more.
She thought also of the Inside Belly Church-gone forever. Mr. Ho Bin Ha had refused to tell the police that she had NOT receive revelations. She really believe that God was speaking from he womb, and when she received note from a man in another cell telling her to deny everything, she didn't listen. She never came back from jail.
Another woman became the leader of the group, and there had been a short, but unforgettable conversation between Mrs. Hong and this woman.
"Who is this girl?" the woman had asked, when she saw her daughter.
"This is my daughter, Hak Ja Han," she had answered."
"How old is she?"
"Six years old."
Then simply, but with quiet authority, she had said, "She will be the bride of the Lord!"
Just thinking about it gave Mrs. Hong that lightheaded feeling that came whenever something unusual happened regarding her daughter, and she renewed her promise to God to take good care of her daughter. That was her mission in life, it seemed.
Then, when they had been put into prison, she didn't know what to think. Should she stay calm, knowing that God was caring for her daughter? Or should she fight desperately to save her? In the end, she did both, and in eleven days they escaped.
'Omma! Omma!" Hak Ja was tugging at her sleeve to get her attention.
'Will we be in Seoul today?' she asked.
'Yes, we will, daughter," she answered. "And don't forget that we will meet the Messiah very soon." She looked at her mother to include her in this statement. "As we enter Seoul, we must remember to have the feeling that we are approaching him. We will continue to do our three bows regularly until we come to the edge of the city."
Mrs. Hong's own mother just looked at her wearily and nodded her head. By afternoon, they were in the city, but still they continued walking.
"This city is endless," she murmured with a worried look. "It could take days to find my brother." Her mother looked worried, too. It had been many years since she had seen her son, her only other child besides Soon-Ae. Would they recognize him?
"We could pray, Omma," suggested her daughter.
"That we could, daughter," she agreed.
Mrs. Hong silently prayed for guidance as they walked. With the money the soldiers had given them at the border, they stopped at an outdoor counter and had some hot fish and noodle soup, and she continued her inner prayer.
As they got up to continue their journey among the street vendors, Mrs. Hong suddenly saw a familiar face. It was a friend of her brother's-and an answer to her prayers.
When she told him she was looking for her brother, he was very enthusiastic,"Yes, he IS here! He's a soldier and is stationed in Seoul now." He shook his head in disbelief. "He's been talking about his family alot lately and has been wishing he could go home after all these years. And now, here you are! Well, then, come along. I will take you to his place."
During their first year in Seoul, the communists of North Korea were becoming a real threat. They made life miserable for the South whenever they possibly could. For example, the electricity would suddenly go off all over Seoul. That was because the electrical power came from the North, and the communists were fond of turning it off so the factories would have to close. Then they accused the southern Koreans of being lazy because their factories were closed.
By 1950, the North Korean communists, with supplies from Russia, began making attacks on the villages and moving closer to Seoul. The Americans were urgently called to help.
The air became thick with tension during the sweltering heat of June and July. The Koreans were leaving Seoul by the thousands, heading south to get far away from the hated communists.
Mrs. Hong and her mother and brother tried not to let Hak Ja Han see that they were worried. After she fell asleep each night, the adults discussed what to do. Things were getting scary. Perhaps the North Koreans would attack Seoul. Perhaps the Americans and the Russian communists would fight each other on their land, and they would be caught in the middle. Should they flee?
Then one day, Mrs. Hong's brother burst into the house out of breath,"Pack whatever you can in ten minutes," he said. "The families of soldiers are allowed to leave the city by train, and there's one leaving soon. "Kapshida! Bal-li, bal-li!" (Let's go! Quickly, quickly!)
They rushed around, tying bundles of their belongs onto their back. It was difficult to run to the train on such a hot day, especially being loaded down as they were, but they managed to arrive before the train left. The old train pulled slowly out of the station and chugged along through the city, into the country, between the layered rice paddies, over a long bridge, and into the village of Kanko. They began to relax.
Through the open windows they saw army jeeps and American soldiers weaving among the fleeing Koreans. These big soldiers appeared to be suffering greatly from the heat and were constantly slapping at the flies and insects which tormented them. They were also scratching alot, so they probably had lice, as well.
Along the railroad tracks were thousands more--mostly women, children, and old men in tall black hats-- trudging south by foot. The few younger men were bent over double, barely able to hold up the massive bundles tied onto crude A-frames on their backs.
Suddenly,"Pow! Bang! Crash! Crash!" What was happening? Everyone stuck their head out of the windows. Behind the train they saw heavy black smoke billowing into the sky and below it a gaping hole in the bridge they had just gone over! If they had been five minutes later.... They pulled their heads back inside, not wanting to think about that possibility.
Mrs. Hong closed her eyes. "God in heaven,' she breathed shakily. "Thank you. I truly know that you are protecting my daughter, YOUR daughter.'
They learned eventually that the American soldiers had destroyed the bridge in an attempt to stop the communists from going further south.
"Should we go on to Pusan?" wondered Mrs. Hong. She decided they would stay, and while the war raged around them like a big tornado, the three ladies concentrated on their daily lives. Hak Ja Han attended fifth grade, then sixth grade. Always, they felt protected.
From time to time, God sent a reminder to Mrs. Hong to raise her daughter well. A monk once said to her, 'You could never exchange this one daughter for even ten sons. This daughter is so honorable, she cannot touch the ground." (In Korea, if you are high class, they say your feet can't touch the ground.) 'Furthermore,' he said, "your daughter will marry when she is very young, and she will marry an older man, a very wonderful rich man. Money will come to him from the sky, from the land, and from the ocean.'
Mrs. Hong could only listen humbly. Looking at her daughter, she could see clearly that she was a good girl, a good student, and was well-liked. She had many friends.
Another time, as she was dropping off to sleep, Mrs. Hong heard a voice. "Soon-Ae Hong," it said. "I'm listening," she said in her mind.
"I want you to understand that your daughter must stay pure. She must not have any boyfriends. This is very, very important, and your only mission is to protect her during the next few years."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Hong. "I understand."
She was already aware that some of her daughter's friends were boys, but they just seemed like brothers so she hadn't been worried. However, Mrs. Hong HAD noticed that when they walked down the street together, older boys would often stare admiringly at her daughter. Sometimes, they would boldly say something to her. "Mmm, beautiful!" Thing like that.
She looked at her daughter. Her eyes were bright, her smile was beautiful, and she was pleasingly shy. There was a soft calmness about her face. She was only 10, but she was blooming like a flower. No wonder the boys were looking at her.
"Hak Ja-ya," her mother said, putting her arm around her shoulders. "Do you know that you must not look at the boys? You must not love any boy."
'Yes, I understand, Omma," she answered promptly, as if she had already thought about it. But did she really understand? Mrs. Hong could only worry.
One day, a letter came to their house addressed to Hak Ja Han. When she opened it, her face reddened and she tried to hide it.
"What's that?" her mother asked. Hak Ja Han handed the letter to her. As Mrs. Hong read it, her heart froze. It was from a boy, and he was saying, "Dear Hak Ja, I think you are beautiful. I love you very, very much."
'Do you know this boy?" asked her mother, trying to sound calm. "He's just one of the boys at school," she answered.
'Well, daughter, please don't talk to him. Do you promise?"
"I promise, Omma," she said. She really wanted to do what was right. Unknown to her mother, she was already praying to be pure and to live for God. She even prayed for a pure husband.
In the days ahead, more things like this happened-more remarks on the street, more visitors, more letters. Mrs. Hong worried day and night.
"If it's like this now," she wondered, "what will happen when she is 13-or 15 years old?"
She thought about it. She prayed about it. An idea started coming into her head, but at first she dismissed it. It was too crazy. As she prayed, however, it became more clear. They must go away. They must live alone. She must give up everything to protect her daughter.
'Well, our plans have been changed. We will live on the island," was all her mother had said. There was no further discussion.
Now that they were on the island, Hak Ja Han still didn't know what it was all about. She wandered around a bit, looking at the mountain above her. The dead volcano disappeared into the clouds almost every morning, and she wondered if she, too, was disappearing into the clouds. There were no friends here, no school, no lively, noisy streets, nothing to make her feel normal and alive.
"Why am I here?" she whispered to the wind. "I miss my friends so. Why am I here?" she said to the field of yellow flowers. She turned and saw the dancing sea meeting the windswept beach. "Waves going everywhere. Waves going nowhere," she called to the sea. "But at least all you waves have each other." "Hak Ja-ya! Hak Ja-ya! Eedi-wayo (Come here)!" It was her mother calling her, just about the only voice besides her own she ever heard any more.
"I'm over here, Omma," she called back politely, but without much enthusiasm. She walked toward her mother.
"Today, we will climb higher on the mountain and have a long prayer," was the message her mother brought.
"But, Omma, we just prayed this morning," she answered. Prayer was different now. It had been nice when they went to church at five in the morning, and prayed out loud with a whole crowd of people. Then, she felt good. But here, on this strange island, it was lonely, lonely, lonely. The wind sounded lonely. The mountain looked lonely. Prayer was lonely. She really wanted to be brave, but suddenly her eyes filled with tears and overflowed onto her sad face.
Mrs. Hong felt a pang in her heart when she saw such sadness. "Am I doing the right thing?" she asked herself, almost ready at that moment to give up and go home. "But no, I MUST train her to be disciplined. She must learn to give up things that aren't important. She must learn to have her own connection with God so that no matter what is happening she will be strong. She shouldn't depend on other people to make her happy. And, anyway, I have to keep her away from the boys."
"Come along," she said aloud, ignoring the tears. "God is waiting." She started up the mountain. Hak Ja Han followed. She had learned obedience well.
"When we get back," said her mother, "I have a new book about the saints for you to read." Well, at least the books were enjoyable. In fact, they were more interesting than anything else on the island.
As they hiked, they looked for plants to eat. They lived on whatever they could find-no meat, no mandoo or kimchee, and certainly no candy. They were vegetarians now. Thank God it was a tropical island, and they could almost always find fruit and vegetables.
Even though this was the warmest part of Korea, when the winter winds came, their warm clothes and comforters were not always enough to keep the chill from reaching their bones.
Still, the biggest problem of all was the constant loneliness. Her heart felt heavy, almost collapsed. She didn't skip around anymore, or laugh or sing. She did learn to get up early every morning, pray long hours every day, persevere, and obey.
One morning, after prayer time, her mother had a surprise. "We will go back to the mainland today," she said. "All we have to do is pack our things, and just as soon as the next boat comes, we're off." Hak Ja Han looked at her mother. Was it really true? She waited motionless wondering if it was a joke. Her mother started packing. Then, she turned and looked at her daughter as if she heard her thoughts. She seemed to ponder something a moment, then in softer tones she said, "I know it has been difficult for you here. But I just happen to know that it is very important for you to live a pure and disciplined life. It's the only thing I knew to do. But this morning I very clearly heard God tell me to take you to your grandmother and uncle." A twinkle came to her eyes. "I guess He feels sorry for you."
Hak Ja Han's eyes brightened. "Yes,' continued her mother. She was smiling now, but there were also tears in her eyes. "I planned for us to stay here much longer, but God really wants us to go. Grandmother and uncle are living together in Chun Chon now. It's not too far from Seoul and will take us two days to get there. I still think the Lord-you know, the Messiah-will be found in Seoul, but for now we can go to Chun Chon. Well? What do you think?"
Hak Ja Han broke into a smile, a little skip, and then a hop, and soon she was dancing around for the first time in months. "Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes," she sang to the sky. "Dear grandmother; dear uncle. I will see you soon."
She danced up to her mother. "And I want to see streets and shops and people-and meat. Yes, meat. I'm hungry for lots and lots of meat--and some fresh kimchee to go with it! Can we have it, Omma?" "Sure, daughter," said her amused mother. "You shall have everything."
People were crowding through the streets, getting in each other's way, pushing to get the scarce taxis. Street vendors sat over their burning cinder blocks to keep warm. "Everything is wonderful she whispered happily to the crowds.
Hak Ja Han had to finish sixth grade that year in order to enter Middle School as planned. Before long, therefore, she settled down into the daily routine of study She put her mind to work quickly and was obedient and well disciplined
In her spare time, she liked to draw and sing. Now that she was away from the island, she could think more fondly of the peaceful beauties to be found there. She drew the delicate flowers she seen, the billowing clouds drifting in from the sea, the thin morning clouds wrapping around the mountain peak. She sang of mountain flowers and dawning days and blue skies.
She was feeling more calm and sure of herself now; and more in tune with God's vibrations. Yes, nature had taught her alot. She would never be alone as long as God showed Himself in these ways.