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Great State: A Different View of North Korea

MIDWEST CITY, OKLAHOMA — It’s still a big deal turning 100. In Hee Kim got letters from President Barack Obama and Governor Mary Fallin.

Her nursing home friends sang Happy Birthday. Everybody had a piece of cake, and that was the day before her big party.

In Hee couldn’t hear the singing. Her daughter Shinja Cowen communicates with her through writing.

Her mother appeared to take the milestone birthday in stride. Through her translator In Hee said, “I served the Lord all my life. I am here but I don’t know how. It’s only God’s grace that I continue to serve Him.”

She doesn’t rattle easily. That’s apparent by looking at her life.

In Hee grew up in a Christian school. Her 1935 marriage was arranged through neighboring churches.

They exchanged pictures before meeting for the first time at the wedding ceremony itself.

Husband Ki Suk Kim started a church in the North. In Hee started caring for a growing family. By the time her husband was seized by the Japanese authorities in 1943 there were 3 kids.

There is a family picture taken just after his release from two years of captivity.

Shinja explains that her father suffered from dysentery. “So they let him out in the snow,” she says, “knowing that he would die, but praise God he didn’t.”

Caught up in the torrent of history, In Hee helped keep her husband alive and her children fed.

After the war they returned to North Korea, to another hostile political environment.

When war broke out again they escaped. In Hee and her children got out under cover of darkness in a fishing boat during monsoon season.

Shinja chuckles. “Me and my brother had a contest to see who could throw up harder and more.”

In Hee and Ki Suk eventually had 6 children. 4 survived.

She kept them clothed with surplus parachute fabric.

She followed her husband to a Korean church in Norman in 1985. Shinja describes her mother’s first impression of the Southern Plains. “When she saw all this vast land, ‘Oh my’, she said. ‘They’re wasting all this. We’ve got to garden.”

Her prowess as a seamstress continued with a whole string of State Fair ribbons.

She only moved into a nursing home a couple of years ago.

Children, grandchildren, and great, grandchildren came from all over the world to celebrate.

It’s a miracle they made it, say In Hee’s 4 surviving children.

They can thank Providence for some of that, but they also thank a strong mother who keeps everything working under the most trying of circumstances.

She really didn’t ever get rattled. “She’s a remarkable woman,” echoes Shinja.