‘The Righteous Outlaw’: A story of forbidden faith

By Sara Bruestle | Dec 18, 2013
Photo by: Sara Bruestle "The Righteous Outlaw" was translated from Korean to English by Mukiltean Sarah Kay Grzech.

A Korean man with the alias “Brother J” was a real-life Robin Hood. He was an outlaw of the 20th century who robbed rich North Koreans and gave to the poor “children of God.”

Before his death, Brother J wrote the story of how in 1996 he became a Christian in North Korea – where such faith is forbidden – and preached the Gospel in underground churches there. The book was published last year in Korean.

A year later, Sarah Kay Grzech, of Mukilteo, has translated “The Righteous Outlaw: More Thirsty Than Hungry” from Korean to English with Steve Hammond, of Everett.

“Brother J was a reluctant Christian, but, compelled by faith, he sought meaning and service in the name of God in the stark and brutal setting of North Korea near the turn of the 21st century,” Hammond said.

“[His] testimony tells of a flawed man flung about by forces much greater than himself, yet drawn by faith into a community of believers and slowly, surely, toward new life in Christ.”

In the book, Brother J tells of his conversion to Christianity and his work as an underground Christian leader in North Korea. Although it was dangerous, he wanted the world to know how he and many others became Christians, despite persecution and heavy penalties.

“His community was able to obtain one Bible by theft, from a Korean church across the border in China,” Hammond said. “Brother J’s community had to split the Bible among themselves, leaving [him] with only Leviticus and First Samuel to read and study,” though he did get to study the Gospel later.

A former North Korean cadre, Brother J risked his own life to save others and to be loyal to God. He stole from rich North Koreans of the Workers’ Party and gave to hungry underground Christians.

In 1999, Brother J defected to China, just over the North Korean border, narrowly avoiding arrest after attempting a raid.

He lived in hiding in China until he was killed in 2012, just three weeks before his book was published in Korean. He was 50 years old.

“Brother J reminds our readers that God has not forgotten the people of North Korea,” Grzech wrote. “His light is shining even in that dark land.”

“North Koreans are coming to Jesus Christ for salvation. Once they become Christians, these underground North Korean brothers and sisters are steadfast and resolute for the Lord.”

Brother J was born in North Korea in 1962. During Kim Il-Sung’s reign, he lived in the capitol, Pyongyang, a special privilege for Workers’ Party of Korea cadres, until 1994. A “cadre” is an elite political member of the ruling party.

When Kim Jong-Il became ruler of North Korea, Brother J was branded “anti-party” and pushed out of Pyongyang.

“‘[It is a] story of raw, barely educated faith, seeking understanding but also community in a bleak and terrifying political landscape,” Hammond said.

Last year, Brother J entrusted what is now “The Righteous Outlaw” to Pastor Danny Park in China, in hopes that it would be turned into a book. It was written in an obscure North Korean dialect.

Park, of Lynnwood, is the Korean founder of Gideon Brothers Mission World, a missionary serving North Korean Christians. He turned the manuscript over to Grzech to translate into English.

“In translating, it was tempting to try to refine Brother J’s plot and character development, but Sarah and I chose to try to translate Brother J without embellishment into common English,” Hammond said.

“Brother J was not a professional writer. What the book lacks in refinement, however, it more than makes up for in authenticity.”

Grzech, who is Korean, gave him the alias “Brother J” and blurred his face in photos to protect his family.

At her urging, an old friend of Grzech’s published a Korean version of the book in South Korea on Nov. 6, 2012. Following its publication, Grzech worked on the English version for the better part of a year.

“Once I read the manuscript, I was deeply moved,” she said. “The least I could do was to translate the book from Korean to English for a wider audience.

“I want to let the whole world know what is going on behind the curtain of North Korea, and what is happening to Christians in that clandestine society.”

She enlisted the help of fellow congregates at Mukilteo Presbyterian Church, as well as Pastor Mark Smith, to work on making the translation into English as readable as possible.

Steve Hammond was the senior editor of the book, and is also the leader of Grzech’s Bible study at the church.

“It was our privilege to assist in that undertaking,” Hammond said. “It was truly a labor of love.”

The communist state Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is considered atheist with a “self-reliant” political thesis formed by Kim Il-Sung, based on the idea that “man is the master of everything and decides everything,” Hammond said.

Freedom of religion is protected in the DPRK constitution, but in reality, religion is oppressed and subordinated in favor of party rule.

Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture, even death. Tens of thousands are locked up in internment camps, including the infamous prison No. 15, which reportedly holds 6,000 persecuted Christians alone.

Many North Korean Christians have been exiled to China or have fled to South Korea.

Despite the severe oppression, an estimated 400,000 Christians are part of a growing underground church movement.

“I look forward to the day that the light will come to the dark land of North Korea,” Grzech said.

Order “The Righteous Outlaw” directly from the publisher at www.authorhouse.com. This book is also available on www.Amazon.com and at your local resellers.

All proceeds from the sale of the English version go toward Gideon Brothers Mission World.

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