There’s more to the story of President Trump’s SOTU guest from North Korea

There’s more to the story of President Trump’s SOTU guest from North Korea
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During the recent State of the Union address, President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE shared the personal story of Ji Seong Ho, who escaped from North Korea under horrifying circumstances and now helps others who are seeking freedom. 

Watching Ji Seong Ho stand up in the crowd on Tuesday night — lifting his crutches in the air as a symbol of courage and resilience — instantly made me think of the thousands upon thousands of other North Koreans who, like him, have suffered the unimaginable. It’s a thought that brings an ache to the soul. 

The story of Ji Seong Ho sheds light on a reality that is too often left in the shadows, obscured from public view: the tragic and unrelenting persecution of North Korea’s own citizens. For years satellite imagery has depicted modern-day concentration camps where entire families deemed enemies of the state go to work, suffer horrendous abuse and, ultimately, die.


For the 17th consecutive year, North Korea ranks as No. 1 on the annual Open Doors World Watch List, a list documenting the countries in the world where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. The 2018 Open Doors World Watch List research indicates that around 300,000 Christians still live in North Korea, where they are viewed as hostiles who must ultimately be eradicated by the North Korean government.


We know that often entire families are persecuted for the “crime” of one person becoming a Christian. Some have been rounded up and exiled to concentration camps for generations — for the simple act of possessing a Bible.

Ji Seong Ho’s tragic account paints a vivid picture of the dark reality for millions of North Koreans today who face famine and starvation, and complete isolation from any modern technology or current events, as they are denied access to information. And while it may be difficult to connect the dots to our daily lives as Americans, there is another part of Ji Seong Ho’s story that didn’t make it into Trump’s State of the Union address.

Once he was finally free of the suffering that had trailed him since childhood, Ji just wanted to live a comfortable life. He was exhausted. He had suffered so much, and he just wanted to take a step back from it all.

But Ji’s perspective changed radically in 2010.

He was invited to speak to a number of churches throughout Arizona, where Christian audiences not only listened but embarked upon public prayer and advocacy campaigns to help other North Koreans who were suffering.

"When I saw these Americans, people who are not Korean, being involved in this issue, I was so moved,” he later said, adding, “[I] also was very embarrassed at the same time to see these non-Koreans, to see these Americans move me so much.”

Seeing American Christians on their knees praying for North Koreans and speaking out for their freedom changed his heart — and his life. “When I think of Americans, at least the ones that I’ve met, and have had the privilege of getting to know, I regard Americans as a very exemplary people, the way that they care about other people’s plights,” he explained.

We have all heard much said about Trump’s “America first” rhetoric. But if you can look at it, even for a moment, through Ji’s lens, being American means a lot: It means being compassionate, and caring deeply about the plight of others, even if those others are in a closed country like North Korea. It means being ready to speak out, ready to stand against brutal injustice, ready to act.

On Tuesday night, through the story of Ji Seong Ho, our nation witnessed one powerful reminder of the vital work that we can do as Americans in caring for those who suffer. It’s part of what being an American is all about. 

David Curry is the president and CEO of Open Doors USA, a global advocate for persecuted Christians that works in the most restrictive and oppressive countries for Christians.