If you want to be transformed, share your testimony before you’re transformed (and other lessons I learned from coaching traumatized North Koreans)

If you want to be transformed, share your testimony before you’re transformed (and other lessons I learned from coaching traumatized North Koreans)

A Guest Post from Dr. Hyun Sook Foley

Contrary to what you may have been taught or maybe just assumed, you do not have to live a successful life first and then tell your testimony once your life is polished and perfect. You don’t have to suddenly start making great choices and produce astonishing results in every area you touch before your story is worth hearing and telling. Instead, when you learn to tell your story the way God does, you’ll discover that you really are already in the middle of something truly amazing, right in the midst of your difficulties. You are already on a hero’s journey.

And it’s okay if you’re not the heroic type, because the heroics come from God. We’re the recipients of His heroics, not the other way around.

A close reading of the Bible reveals that God never gives anyone a victim story or a life consigned to failure. “No,” says the apostle Paul to the Roman Christians, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” He who loved us is God. Human beings are created in the image of God, and God is no victim. Victim stories come from Satan, who, according to John 10:10, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” And nothing can steal, kill, and destroy your life as a victim story can. God, on the other hand, only narrates redemptive stories, or what we might call hero stories. And He reserves hero status for individuals who simply trust in that truth and in His goodness, and thus let Him narrate their lives accordingly. Wouldn’t you rather let God narrate your life story than Satan? That’s all that being a hero requires.

Nearly two decades of work with North Korean Christians has led me to recognize that the difference between those who are happy and those who are traumatized does not lay in their experiences but rather in the narrative frame they use to understand and tell their stories, right as they are in the midst of living them. I coach traumatized North Koreans to narrate their life stories using a different frame than the ones they learned from North or South Korea–a biblical frame, where God can be revealed as guiding and caring for them at each step. With surprisingly little outside coaching, life change became possible for these North Koreans because they changed the way they told, thought about, and lived their stories. In very much the same way, you can learn to change the way you tell your story, and the way you think about it.

In fact, my own life has been fundamentally transformed by changing my narrative frame. Like you, perhaps, I have experienced a number of near-crippling psychological, spiritual, and physical episodes over the years, including losing my health, getting divorced, being physically abused, and suffering the painful betrayal of close friends. As each difficult episode was added to my life story, I became more and more tempted to narrate it as a sad, broken, and disappointing story.

But what I learned through coaching North Koreans through trauma is that the path to positive life change did not begin with us somehow starting to get everything right in our lives but rather in us first getting the narrative frame itself right. In fact, until you get the narrative frame right, very little else will go right in your life. The wrong narrative frame will lead you to make unsatisfactory choices, as I did. I needed to learn to tell, hear, and live my story for God’s glory, not my own. That meant embracing His narrative form, which is always gracious, redemptive, and Christ-centered, rather than the narrative forms of the cultures around me (American and Korean) which were either self-focused, shame based, or success oriented.

Take it from North Koreans: Learning how to hear and tell your story the way that God does is the key to coming to greater peace with yourself, others, and God even though you might be right in the midst of nearly impossible circumstances. It is these challenges that make your story so very, very good and important, after all.


  1. P James Long

    Says November 02, 2018 at pm 3:04

    Such an incredible truth; such a simple truth, but so profound and counter to our human centered thinking.

    Thank you

    • admin

      Says February 19, 2019 at pm 1:55

      Thank you for being willing to learn with us from North Koreans!

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