December 27th, 2011
05:48 PM ET
By Stan Wilson and Casey Wian, CNN
Los Angeles (CNN)–When Chang Soon Lee reflects on his childhood years in North Korea, his joy quickly turns to deep sadness. Like millions of Koreans caught in the middle of the Korean War in the early 1950s, Chang at the age of 15 was forced to flee his native homeland.
His father, a prominent minister who survived World War II, disappeared just days after communist-led forces invaded Pyongyang. "After the (World War II) liberation of Korea, my father often visited churches and preached but one day we waited for him and he never returned home," says Chang.
By the time an armistice halted the Korean War in 1953, nearly 37,000 U.S. troops had been killed and more than 400,000 North Koreans soldiers were dead, according to the U.S Department of Defense.
Chang eventually emigrated to the United States on a student visa and became a minister, co-founding a ministry for Korean immigrants at Wiltshire United Method Church in Los Angeles, home to the nation's largest Korean-American population.
But Chang has never forgotten his homeland and he's returned half a dozen times on humanitarian missions, taking tons of food to orphanages as part of a charity group he established in the United States. "Its a kind of symbolic showing for them that we love you, you are our brothers and sisters, we are tragically separated but we are one and we are concerned about you we are praying," says Chang.
While Chang acknowledges the late Kim Jong Il's brutal dictatorship and his refusal to liberalize North Korea's economy as millions of people were dying of starvation, he remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of reunification under the young new leader, Kim Jong Un.
"I hope the young leader has the confidence enough to open more, to build up a relationship with South Korea and the USA," Chang says.
During his missions, North Korean authorities never allowed Chang to visit the neighborhood where he last saw his father, and that last sighting still haunts him 60 years later. "I want to know what happened to my dad, where he lived or died," says Chang as he wipes away tears.
As North Korea's new leader mourns the death of his father, Chang hopes Kim Jong Un will remember people like Chang Soon Lee.
Now retired at 76, Chang says he looks forward to a day when millions of Koreans might reunite, although he says South Korea and the United States also have a shared responsibility to promote peace.
"We have to give them (North Korea) confidence or trust that we are not attacking you, we support you and (will) work together for a better world."
And perhaps, Chang hopes, that will lead to answers about his father.
"I want to know what happened to him. You cannot have resolve completely unless you really find what happened."
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.