Kim Shin Jo is a born-again Presbyterian minister — the gentle leader of his church. But the 79-year-old is best known by history as a trained killer.
In January 1968, he and 30 others slipped from North Korea into Seoul to kill the South Korean president in what became known as the Blue House raid. His group made it within a few hundred meters of the president’s residence before being confronted by a South Korean police officer. In the ensuing gunfight, more than 30 South Koreans were killed.
He was the face of evil and terror for a generation of Koreans — a North Korean commando fighter who came into Seoul to assassinate the South Korean president at the time, Park Jung Hee.
Following the incident, Jo said to reporters, “I came from North Korea to kill president Park Chung Hee. I came to cut the throat of Park Chung Hee. We were taught that America had turned South Korea into a colony, and our mission was to remove the puppet government.”
All but two of the North Korean commandos were killed in the attempt; one managed to sneak back into North Korea while the other, Kim Shin Jo, was captured.
Kim underwent months of interrogation while captive behind bars. A South Korean army general befriended him — and broke through his hardened training.
“I tried to kill the president. I was the enemy,” Kim said. “But the South Korean people showed me sympathy and forgiveness. I was touched and moved.”
The government eventually released Kim, finding he never fired a shot from his gun and didn’t hurt anyone during the assassination attempt.
Kim later worked for the South Korean military, became a citizen, married and had a family. Then he became a minister, and today is a symbol of redemption to the nation.
Kim once reflected on footage shown of himself held captive in 1968 and responded by saying, “On that day, Kim Shin Jo died,” Kim said. “I was reborn. I got my second life, and I’m thankful for that.”
Tensions have remained high during the past six decades on the divided peninsula — with few answers for workable, long-term solutions. But Kim is living proof that even the hardest of hearts can change.
My point isn’t about the futility of coup attempts or even about age. Instead, it’s about change, transformative change. It’s about never losing the capacity to start a new chapter in your life, regardless of how the last chapter may have ended.
The prophet Isaiah writes these words: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19).
This week, take heart in understanding that God may be ready to do something new in your life, to give you a transformative new start. He has forgotten the former things, and you can, too. The new creation will be springing up soon. Do you perceive it?