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In Their Own Words: Laura Ling and Euna Lee

Sep 4 2009
One of the women, Euna Lee, was driven by her faith in Christ to cover the plight of North Koreans.

Much has been written about Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two American journalists captured this March, imprisoned for five months in North Korea, and released on August 6. But on Wednesday, for the first time, their story was told in their own words.

Lee and Ling's story has unfolded over the past few months, and I have watched with interest, both because they are journalists and because they are women. I have tried to see myself in their situation in order to understand what they went through. But I have to admit, it is difficult to imagine myself hiking at sunrise across the border from China into North Korea, living in a third-world prison—or flying on a jet with Bill Clinton. It is even hard to imagine how they felt, behind the scenes, when they taped the "thank you" video posted the week after their return, much less during the ordeal in prison.

Instead, as I followed the story, I kept coming back to unanswered questions: Who are these women? What motivates them? And how did they survive?

Their statement didn't do much to answer these questions, but this sentence at least provides a clue: "One of us, Euna, is a devout Christian whose faith infused her interest in the story." Slowly, a new mental picture forms that is based on our shared faith.

When the two women, both in their 20s, were first detained, they were separated and repeatedly interrogated in a manner they describe as "rigorous." Their sentence was 12 years of hard labor, and Ling's well-known sister, Lisa, released details about the quality of the food they were given (small portions containing rocks) shortly after their release. In other words: Although the two women have not gone into detail about their imprisonment, it could not have been easy. Yet within five days of returning home, Euna told supporters on LauraandEuna.com, "I went to church and was able to sing unto the Lord." She said it was on the wish list she had made in North Korea.

Talk about praising God through suffering. I appreciate Lee's story, even if I can't understand every detail. In the end, it's the way she survived that inspires me. Neither woman has given up on her reasons for being in North Korea in the first place.

In early August, Doug LeBlanc at Get Religion wrote about Christian missionary Reverend Chun Ki Won, a contact in South Korea who had helped Ling and Lee arrange their trip. Reverend Chun is "a Christian missionary from South Korea whose organization smuggles Bibles into North Korea through China," reported ABC News. The women characterize Chun's statements to the press following their imprisonment as inaccurate and potentially threatening under the circumstances, but a day after the statement's release, Chun told The New York Times, "He was distressed that he and the American journalists were now being seen as placing blame on each other for the episode." It seems they disagree on what will best aid the people of the region, which continues to be a matter of importance to Ling and Lee. Sadly, stories of increased persecution in North Korea have already begun.

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