Reading through Noel Jesse Heikkinen’s book, Unchained, I was struck by this incredibly moving story about North Korean prison camp survivor, Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped in 2005:

His father and mother were born in the same prison because his uncles had defected to South Korea. North Korea has a well-known policy of “three-generations of punishment” they inflict on those who oppose (or are even suspected of opposing) the government. Because Shin was born in the prison, he knew no other life. In his mind, the entire world was Camp 14, and there were only two types of people in the world: prisoners and guards. You were born as one or the other, and you lived your entire life that way. When asked by Anderson Cooper if he ever thought about escaping, he replied, “No. Never. What I thought was that the society outside the camp would be similar to that inside the camp.”

Every day, Shin did the same thing: he obeyed. He was told what to do and he did it. He was told to eat a small portion of corn gruel and cabbage for every meal, and he just assumed that was how it had to be. He was a prisoner. For twenty-three years, he was always hungry and tired from daily hard labor.

But Shin said everything changed in one day. A new prisoner named Park was brought to Camp 14, and with him came tales of a different world on the other side of the electric fence. He talked about living in cities and traveling to China. But one particular thing Park talked about defined freedom in Shin Dong-hyuk’s mind more than anything else: broiled chicken. Park told him that outside the electrified fence of his world was another world where you could eat broiled chicken — and you could eat it anytime you wanted.

Shin had never eaten chicken. But he knew what chicken tasted like: freedom.

This quest for broiled chicken led Shin and Park to attempt to escape over the electrified fence. Park touched the fence first and immediately died. An untold number of volts coursed through his body and stopped his heart. His body became a bridge over which Shin was able to climb to freedom. That day he became the only person to ever escape from [a “total-control zone” internment camp in North Korea] and live to tell the tale.

Shin Dong-hyuk is no longer a prisoner. He now lives in South Korea and eats broiled chicken whenever he wants. This chicken, along with his freedom, was purchased by a friend who gave his life for him.

The details of Dong-hyuk’s life in North Korea have been disputed in the last few years, but most say that the gist of his escape remains accurate. For me, the most affecting part of the story is not in the details of his time in the prison camp but rather the image of Park’s death paving the way to Shin’s freedom. It’s horrifying, absolutely, but also incredibly moving.

Christianity is a religion borne of an event so remarkably similar — Christ dies so that we might live. By his sacrifice, we are freed from the prisons of our selves — freed to eat delicious food, freed to be imperfect and make mistakes…free, full stop. As Paul writes in his supremely underrated epistle to the Colossians: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (1:21-22). Amen!