An Evening With Euna Lee: more than I ever expected

I attended a talk the other day, ” An Evening with Euna Lee,” and was brought to tears by this woman’s testimony of twisted fate, desperate faith, and redemption.  Her name may not ring a bell as clearly as Laura Ling, but they both suffered the same ill fortune: imprisonment in North Korea which punctuated their documentary project in the bordering country of China.

I will confess that I did not follow the story too closely at the time, but the incredibly personal version of her story that evening trumped anything that I could have ever gleaned from CNN.  Just to recap the basics, Lee and Ling were arrested on March 17, 2009.  They were filming a documentary on human trafficking and accidentally crossed into the North Korean border without a visa.  They were imprisoned for 140 days during which they were subject to ongoing interrogations.  Former US President Bill Clinton visited North Korea in an attempt to free Lee and fellow journalist Laura Ling. The North Korean government pardoned both Lee and Ling after meeting with Clinton that day.

These are the basic facts.  There was a lot more that I learned that evening.  Here are some realizations that will take your breath away.

I think that many are guilty of judging Ling and Lee as being foolish for toying with the infamous Korean government by treading so closely to their border.  Lee, however, described the harrowing event of their arrest.  According to Lee, they were being guided by an officer at a certain point in their trip.  Lee said that she had eaten dinner with the Korean-Chinese officer and felt that she could trust him.  The following day, they were traveling near the border, which, by the way, had no markings.  “There was no wire, no wall, no guards to identify the border,” Lee said.  At one point, the guard crossed a small river and beckoned for them to follow.  Without hesitation, they all followed suit.  But within moments, a simultaneous sentiment arose amongst the group that something wasn’t right and they all immediately retreated.  Lee said that as they did that, a member of the group said, “soldiers!” and indeed, Korean soldiers were racing toward them at full speed.  As she was running, the guard ran alongside Euna and asked her, “Are you filming?”  Lee said that she thought he was crazy…until she flipped open her camera, gripped it under her arm, and continued to run with it.  Lee said that they all ran for their lives, some of them crossing to the other side to safety…and then, Laura fell.  “I couldn’t move,” said Euna.  “I couldn’t leave her.”  Laura’s leg was injured, Lee stopped, and within seconds they were surrounded and arrested.  And so began the 140 days of their imprisonment and America’s vigil.

Euna, Michael, & Hana reunite

I think that many people imagined Lee being a “bandit” reporter of sorts, what with her seemingly underestimating the dangers her environment by encroaching on a country so known to be corrupt.  I never would have imagined her, instead, to be a wife and a mother.  At the talk, a little girl raised her hand with an innocently vague question: “How did you feel?”  The audience chuckled, but Lee graciously described how she missed her daughter while in prison.  “I drew a picture of my daughter so that I could toucher her face and look at her and hug her.”  And now I’m so glad that I can do that for real.  That little girl who raised her hand was Hana, indeed, Lee’s daughter, now six, then, only three.  Interviewer Megan Alexander invited Lee’s husband and daughter onto the stage and you just had to cry at the sight of this beautiful family, or rather cry at the thought of this beautiful family having been torn apart so suddenly, so violently, so hopelessly.  Tears welled up in my eyes as watched Euna hold her daughter on her lap, her husband alongside.

Euna Lee’s book: “The World is Bigger Now”


Somebody in the audience raised her hand and asked Euna, “Were there certain Bible passages and verse that you turned to during this time to sustain you?”  I thought to myself, “Whoa, someone is BOLD, asking a question like that! ”  But that shock was nothing in comparison to Euna’s answer that the passage in Psalms 23:4, reading,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  

My mouth dropped with the realization that Euna Lee prayed and cried out to God in that prison.  She said that she wished she had been more diligent in memorizing Scriptures as a young girl, as she was desperate for them in those dark months.  That passage became a lifeline of sorts for her; yet, Lee still longed for her family.

The most dramatic moment of the night for me was when Euna disclosed that she ultimately surrendered her family to God.  “I said to God, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen to my family, God, but if I never see them again, I trust you to take care of them.’  And that was the hardest thing that I ever had to do.”  Unbeknownst to her, her husband, back in America had just surrendered her to God as well.  And two weeks later…Euna was rescued!  The drama!  The emotion!  I could hardly take it!  This was such an Abraham and Isaac story!

I was speechless by the close of the evening.  I had come expecting a news/politics talk and found myself experiencing God’s incredible work in the intimate details of this world news story.  I purchased her book in my feeble attempt to express my gratitude for this woman and will most likely post about it in the near future.  ;)  Praise God.

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