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Amazing attitude of Father Moon when going through the toughest test of his life in North Korean concentration camp

Carrying fertilizer bags in death camp
40 kg bags of ammonium sulfate being carried in Heungnam. Picture taken in the 1930s when the large factory was run by a Japanese company – Nippon Nitrogen Fertilizer Co., Tokyo. Photo: Nippon Nitrogen Fertilizer Co. Public domain image

Sun Myung Moon also decided to have the right attitude towards the work in the camp and always took on the heaviest task, which was to fill the fertilizer in the bags and carry them to the scale.

Once, he got malaria, but he still continued to work every day, even with a high fever. He worked so hard that the task of the other prisoners became easier. The others knew that on his team they always managed to fulfill the daily quota.

On 15th August 1948, the third anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan, the camp commander gave Moon an award as an exemplary worker. On 1st January and 15th August the following year, he received the same award again. Moon saw it as getting his will to win recognized by Satan himself.

On 9th September 1948, the day the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) was officially established, with Kim Il-sung as leader, all prisoners had their sentences reduced. Moon’s sentence was reduced to three years, without this having any practical significance for the length of time he served.

Prisoners were allowed visits once a month. Those occasions were extremely important. The inmates were allowed to speak only ten minutes with those who came to visit. But relatives or others who came usually brought something vital with them: rice powder. It was almost impossible to survive on the food they were served in the camp. This rice powder was therefore a precious gift indeed.

Kim Kyeong-gye visited concentration camp
Kim Kyeong-gye (김경계, 金慶継– 1888-1968), Sun Myung Moon‘s mother. Photo: FFWPU

But Sun Myung Moon always shared with others the rice powder his mother brought him, or he gave it away. This made her cry in despair. She really wanted him to have it himself.

The stay in the concentration camp represented the toughest test Moon ever faced. To overcome the ordeal, he could not be concerned with his own situation, but had to think of God and the other prisoners. But every time his mother came to visit, she begged him to think of himself:

“When you have served your sentence, you must stop preaching and instead think of your family. You cannot continue to get yourself into trouble all the time. You have to come home.”

In the end, he had to tell her that it was better she did not come if it was just to make him feel sorry for himself. He loved his mother, but still, he knew that he could never give up the task God had given him. Every time she brought him something, he gave it to his fellow prisoners.

One of the prisoners once stole half of some rice powder that belonged to Moon. The other prisoners were about to give the guilty one a good beating, but Sun Myung Moon intervened and asked them to leave the thief alone. “Think about how hungry he must have been!” said Moon, “If I leave the rice powder there, the same thing will happen again. So let’s share it with each other now right away.”

From Heungnam fertilizer factory
Bags of ammonium sulfate being transported from the fertilizer factory to the harbour in Heungnam, North Korea. Picture taken in the 1930s when the large factory was run by a Japanese company – Nippon Nitrogen Fertilizer Co., Tokyo. Photo: Nippon Nitrogen Fertilizer Co. Public domain image

In this hell of a concentration camp, many prisoners began to regard Moon as their natural leader. Several had spiritual experiences where they were guided to him. One of them was Cheong-hwa Pak, lieutenant colonel in the North Korean military police, convicted of incompetence in service and for not obeying orders. He had previously been a deacon in a church in Pyongyang. The hunger in the camp was about to drive him mad. Unaccustomed as he was to physical work, he could not perform the simplest tasks. But Moon helped him and showed him how to do it.

Because of his officer background, Pak was appointed camp leader and supervised the work leaders among the prisoners. One night he dreamed that an old man, dressed in white, in traditional Korean clothes, came to him and said:

“Do you know who he is who helped you recently? The young man is him you have been looking for since you were little. He is the Messiah.”

The dream made a deep impression on Pak. For two nights he lay awake for a long time and pondered the dream. One day he sat right behind Moon when they had a morning meeting. “You had a dream a couple of nights ago, didn’t you?” asked Sun Myung Moon. Pak was speechless. Later he arranged for the two to talk together on several occasions. Moon taught him many things.

One night, the old man dressed in white appeared again in Pak’s dream and said:

“From now on you must follow him. Do not doubt him any longer.”

As camp leader, Pak could move freely among the prisoners. Therefore, Moon asked him to find twelve others who could become disciples. Pak eventually got seven of the work leaders with him, after he had told them about his dream and what Moon had told him. Moon himself managed to get five others with him. Among the twelve, there was a priest, two military leaders, three public officials, three political leaders, two businessmen, and a fisherman. Sun Myung Moon later said that it was because he had a basis consisting of twelve disciples, that God managed to free him from the hell of the death camp.

“Amazing Attitude in Hell of Concentration Camp” – text written by Knut Holdhus based on historical materials.

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