Wednesday, August 17, 2022

HISTORICAL FICTION : Praying with the Enemy by Steven T. Collis

Praying with the Enemy


When pilot Captain Ward Millar is forced to eject over enemy territory in North Korea, the ejection explosion snaps both of his ankles. Unable to walk, he is easily captured by North Korean and Chinese soldiers who interrogate, threaten, and starve him for strategic wartime information. He feeds the enemy false information while plotting his escape. But it’s only a matter of time before they discover his lies. He knows it will take a miracle to gain his freedom, but his previous self-reliance on his own capabilities has never included appealing to a higher power. If only he had faith like his wife, Barbara, whose firm belief in God can move mountains.

North Korean soldier Kim Jae Pil was raised to believe in the power of prayer, but, knowing the Communist Party’s views on religious groups, Kim and his family must keep their Christian faith secret. He is desperate to escape the army, return to his family, and then flee to South Korea.

With Millar imprisoned and unable to walk, and the North Korean army increasingly suspicious of Kim’s actions, it seems impossible that either man will find the freedom they so desperately desire. But when these wartime foes cross paths, they find in each other an unlikely ally. Despite speaking different languages, Millar and Kim find common ground in their fragile faith and must rely on each other to undertake a daring escape.

Praying with the Enemy is a story of courage, determination, unlikely friendship, and enduring faith.


STEVEN T. COLLIS is a storyteller at heart. He is also a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law and the faculty director of Texas's Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center and Law and Religion Clinic. Previously, he was the Olin-Darling Research Fellow at the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and chair of the Religious Institutions and First Amendment Practice Group at Holland & Hart LLP. 

He is an engaging and sought-after speaker nationwide on religion and law. Steven received his MFA in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University and his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School. 

He is the author of Deep Conviction: True Stories of Ordinary Americans Fighting for the Freedom to Live Their Beliefs. He and his wife have five children and reside in Texas.


Ward Millar's escape from North Korea during the Korea War was a most remarkable one.  In novel, based on Millar's real life experiences, Collis takes readers into the middle of two men's experiences during war time.  After Millar's plane goes down, Millar is at the mercy of his captors.  With two broken ankles, escape seems to be an impossibility.  To get medical care he is forced to share information with his North Korean & Chinese captors.  He mixes a little truth with mostly lies knowing that it's only a matter of time before his lies are discovered.  Unlike his wife, Millar wasn't a man of faith, he'd never seen a need for a belief in God, until now when his helpless situation stares him in the face. To escape will require a miracle.

Drafted into the North Korean army after a stint in prison for his Christian beliefs, Kim Jae Pil also wants to escape to the south.  But he wants to take his family with him.  When a chance to slip away from the army arises he returns home to find only his mother waiting for him. As he and his mother make plans to go so south, Jae Pil find himself unwillingly returning to the army with little chance of finding the rest of his family.  Despite careful watching, it seems his prayers are going unanswered as weeks go by without any chance to escape.

Despite his difficult circumstances, Ward uses his intelligence to make plans for escape, hoping that his ankles are healing enough to do so.  He gathers supplies with the help of some friendly villagers and prepares to slip away before he ends up in a northern POW camp.  But the poor medical care he has received and his immobility prove to be a bigger problem than he expected and his first attempt fails miserably.

After escaping, it quickly becomes apparent that he seriously miscalculated his situation.  When he encounters Jae Pil and some other soldiers, it seems any hope of a miracle is lost.  But the hope in God that both have exercised through nearly constant prayer brings them together and hope may not be entirely lost.  But time is running out and options are few.  It will take all the ingenuity and faith the two men can muster to find a way to freedom.

Ward and Jae Pil's story fascinated me from the beginning.  I don't know what the odds are of the two men meeting the way they did, somehow managing to communicate with each other, and then trusting each other enough to attempt an escape together.  Failure means likely death for both of them.  So often people claim that such encounters are just coincidences, but here it is clearly a miracle.  While the book has been fictionalized to make it easier to tell (the author's note makes it clear where the story was tweaked a bit to help the book move a bit smoother), the main experiences of both men did happen.  

In addition, the chapters dedicated to Ward's wife's experiences after finding out her husband was missing highlight her great faith and belief that he was still alive and would be coming back to her.  Despite other's efforts to prepare her for the worst, she refused to give up and kept writing letters, even insisting to her husband's commanding officer that he keep the letters for her husband's return.

The faith demonstrated by these individuals is truly inspiring and reinforces my own belief in God and His power to work miracles.  As Ward himself realizes, not all receive the miracles they desire, but by exercising faith he, his wife, and Jae Pil receive their miracle. An incredible story of faith, courage, and determination in the face of challenging obstacles. Highly recommended.


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