One person

April 27th, 2016

There is a dark history between Korea and Japan. My grandparents’ generation still tends to be distrusting towards the Japanese. Much of it stems from Japan's imperial rule over Korea (which ended in 1945). During their rule, the Japanese government forced girls and women into sex slavery who later gained the name “Comfort Women,” a euphemism for prostitute in Japanese.

The Comfort Women who survived the rapes, beatings, diseases and mutilations were murdered to hide the war crimes committed by the retreating Japanese army. It's estimated that 40% committed suicide while “in service.”

For decades, the Japanese government denied the existence of the system of Comfort Women. The small number of women who survived retreated into the caves and corners of society, tormented by nightmares, filled with illness, pain and shame. The majority of the survivors became sterile from the extreme sexual violence they suffered, and many carried their experience to the grave.

All that changed in the summer of 1991. One woman decided speak up. One woman dared to step forward. One woman courageously demanded a country to take responsibility for its actions towards her and those who shared her horrible experience: Kim Hak-Sun.

Her willingness to step up started a movement. The following year, a Japanese professor announced that there existed documents proving the Japanese government’s use of the Comfort Women system. Then more women, given hope and courage by Ms. Kim, stepped forward with their own story.

By 2002, South Korea registered 207 women as victims. 36 women were registered in Taiwan. And there were women in the Philippines, China, Indonesia, North Korea and other countries who had also come forward.

Unfortunately, Ms. Kim died in 1997 while the court case was still ongoing.

Late last year, South Korea and Japan reached a controversial resolution on the Comfort Women issue. 

Growing up, I was always told by adults that one voice matters, that one person can make a difference. During my teenage and early college years, I thought that it was a cliché. Can one person really make that much of a difference? I had my doubts. And those doubts led me to live a pretty passive life, sitting on the sidelines while people were risking their lives and reputations to take a stand against oppressors and oppressive systems.

This fight’s too big for me…
It’s not like I can make a difference…
I ain’t no Dr. King, Mother Teresa, or Gandhi…

Those doubts also made me lazy.

That’s a lot of work for one person…

But Ms. Kim’s story reminds me that one person can make a difference.

Perhaps I get intimidated by my own desired outcome — the overarching goal, the big picture — so I hesitate to speak up.

Here’s another cliché: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Maybe if I break the journey down step by step, I can find the courage to move forward.

When one person stands up, it gives hope, room and courage for others to chime in, rise up and join the fight. It only takes one person to open the doors.

And it’s not just Ms. Kim’s story. It’s the biblical narrative.

God doesn’t look at accomplishments, achievements, popularity, fame, notoriety, wealth, physical strength and good looks but rather at our hearts and our capacity and willingness to love God and others.

God called:

  • a 75-year-old man who had no children to be the father of God’s people 
  • a stuttering, bad tempered 80-year-old to lead God’s people out of Egypt
  • a man who was the weakest of his family and whose family was the weakest of the clan to fight against the oppressive power
  • the runt of the litter of boys, whose father didn’t believe it was necessary for him to meet the prophet to be the king of Israel
  • a peasant girl to be the God-bearer

In the words of God to Joshua, I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

I do believe that one person can make a difference and can change the world. Why not you? Perhaps you've come to your position for such a time as this.

Joseph Yoo is pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of Practical Prayer and Encountering Grace. He blogs at

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