Esther Ahn Kim walked slowly up the hill to the shrine, with her students following silently behind her. The young music teacher knew that when she arrived at the place of worship she would be forced to make a life-altering choice. The Japanese, who had taken control of Korea two years prior in 1937, were forcing everyone to bow at the shrine of their "sun god." The punishment for refusing was imprisonment, torture, and possibly even death.
At that moment, Esther knew what she would do. Even though so many other Christians had decided that outwardly bowing to the idol was acceptable as long as they continued to worship Christ in their hearts, Esther could make no such compromise. She would not bow to any other but the one true God. Defying the Japanese warlords would most likely mean torture and imprisonment, but Esther decided that she would not live her youthful life for herself. She would offer it fully to her Prince, Jesus Christ. She said a silent prayer to Him. Today on the mountain, before the large crowd, I will proclaim that there is no other god but You, she declared.
Esther's group was the last to arrive at the shrine. A huge crowd had gathered, standing in straight, respectful lines, afraid to move because of the cruel gazes of the Japanese policemen. Esther's heart began to pound with dread for what she was about to do. A sense of uneasiness swept over her, and she silently repeated the Lord's Prayer over and over. Lord, she prayed, I am so weak! Please help me do this—watch over me as I stand for You.
"Attention!" came the commanding voice of one of the officials. The crowd stood in silent submission. "Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami!" As he shouted the words, the entire group bent the upper half of their bodies, bowing solemnly before the shrine. Esther was the only one who remained standing, looking up at the sky. The fear and uncertainty that had gripped her just moments before had vanished. Calmness and peace flooded her. She had done what she knew God wanted her to do.
On the long walk back to the school, Esther continued her dialogue with God. I have done what I should have done, she told Him. Now, I commit the rest to You. I died today on that mountain—now it is only You who lives through me. I leave everything in Your hands.
When Esther arrived back at the school, four detectives were waiting for her. Years of intense suffering for her Lord were about to begin. But something happened to Esther that day in front of the shrine, something that changed her forever. She was no longer afraid of what men could do to her; her life was only a tool in the hands of her Lord.
Taking Up Her Cross
For several months, Esther lived in hiding. She knew it was only a matter of time before she was found and imprisoned for the stand that she had taken against the Japanese. But instead of cowering in fear and worry about what her future held, she decided to prepare her heart and her body to suffer for Christ.
"I knew it would be impossible for me to keep my faith in my own power," Esther wrote later. "God would have to work through me if I was to stand firm."
Months of faithful, diligent preparation—fasting, memorizing Scripture, tirelessly praying, and training to endure harsh conditions—transformed Esther from a weak, frail, faltering young woman to a bold and confident ambassador for Christ. Instead of fearing torture, she now faced it boldly in the power and grace of God.
Esther felt God calling her to come out of hiding and boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel among the Japanese. She knew that this would likely lead to her death, but she was determined to follow the Lamb wherever He led her.
Her courageous stand for Christ led to six harrowing years in Japanese prisons. During that time, though her body grew weak with suffering, she shone with supernatural love toward her persecutors and fellow prisoners. Even through torture, she refused to deny the name of Christ. Her astounding example of "suffering hardship as a good soldier for Christ" brought many into the kingdom who would never have heard the gospel otherwise.
After she was released, the story of her imprisonment and unwavering faith became the all-time religious bestseller in Korea, inspiring countless thousands to stand strong in their faith.
One time in prison, she gave up her meager prison food for several days to a woman who was filthy, insane, and sentenced to death for murdering her husband. Instead of being repulsed by the woman as all the other prisoners were, Esther prayed relentlessly for her, sacrificing her own comforts to reach the woman's heart. The woman died in her right mind, knowing Jesus Christ, with a hope and a future.
Such sacrifice and personal suffering for Christ's sake is only possible through the supernatural grace of God. Only one who has truly given up everything to follow Jesus can exude such grace in the face of such hardship.
Gleaning from Esther's Example
Esther's story challenges me to ask the question, Am I prepared to suffer well for Jesus Christ? In the midst of our comfortable American lifestyles, it's easy to think, Of course, if persecution came, I would never deny the name of Christ. Of course if I were thrown into prison, I'd remain strong in my faith.
But we must ask ourselves, are we truly "dying to self" daily, as Esther did? Or are we more concerned with protecting our own comforts and interests than in consecrating our lives fully to Jesus Christ? The only way to be a true follower of Christ is to willingly give up everything; to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 10:38, Luke 9:23).
- When we are more concerned with how many friends we have on Facebook than with what priority Jesus Christ has in our daily life, we are not preparing to suffer well for Christ.
- When we are more preoccupied with having enough time to go to Starbucks than with having enough time to spend in God's presence, we are not preparing to suffer well for Christ.
- When we are reluctant to give of our time, resources, and energy to others in order to preserve our own comforts, we are not preparing to suffer well for Christ.
We will never gain Esther Ahn Kim's version of supernatural boldness and sacrificial love by coddling our own self-interests and protecting our own comforts. Certainly there is nothing wrong with having Facebook friends, Starbucks drinks, or material comforts, but when these kinds of temporal things become more important to us than Jesus Christ, we are not walking the narrow way of the cross anymore. We are merely living selfish lives with a "Christian label" over them.
Esther Ahn Kim counted the cost of following Jesus—not only on the day when she refused to bow at the shrine but every day thereafter . . . when she willingly and gladly gave up comforts and trained her body to endure hardship for the sake of Christ . . . when she came out of hiding and boldly proclaimed the gospel among the Japanese . . . when she endured horrible misery in prison rather than deny her faith in Christ.
Esther's life was no longer her own—and every outward decision she made reflected that inner reality. If you desire to do "big things" for God, ask yourself today whether you have truly counted the cost of following Christ.
This world needs more women like Esther Ahn Kim—women who unreservedly take up their cross and follow Him, no matter what the cost. May it be our greatest desire to follow such a path and joyfully suffer any hardship for the One who gave everything to us. The world will never be the same when they encounter such a life.
Want to learn more about Esther Ahn Kim? We recommend her biography, If I Perish.
Esther Ahn Kim: The Power of Suffering Well for Christ was originally posted on SetApartGirl.com.