After learning about the 1990s famine and the country’s brutal persecution of Christians, Jeffrey Fowle decided to make the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) his next vacation destination. He inscribed his name and phone number in a Korean Bible, which he would “accidentally” leave behind, trusting that God would get it into the right hands.
Fowle thought the identifying information would make his plan more credible: “After all, what kind of idiot would leave a Bible with his name and phone number in it on purpose?” But somewhere along the way he changed course—a decision he still can’t explain.
Instead, Fowle hid the Bible under a waste bin, an obviously intentional act. The Bible fell into the hands of government officials who detained Fowle on the 36th floor of a high-rise hotel and kept him in an “information black-out” for six weeks. Fowle didn’t know if his family knew what had happened to him.
Fowle said he wasn’t concerned about his own safety: “I knew I was in God’s hands and that was a big comfort to me. God was in charge of the events.” His situation improved after six weeks, when the North Koreans allowed him to receive letters from his children and a pound of milk chocolate from his wife.
Fowle said his captors treated him well, letting him see a doctor and giving him ample food and water. His room had a television with three channels broadcasting government activities for four or five hours a day. After two weeks, his captors let him walk 30 to 40 minutes a day with his interpreter.
He underwent repeated interrogations, during which his captors required him to wear his best clothes—a pair of blue trousers and a striped, button down shirt. He came to call it his “Sunday-go-to-interrogation wardrobe.”
They also encouraged Foyle to “write letters to get media attention,” so he wrote to family, friends, and government officials, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. When his letters failed to convey enough distress, the officials made him rewrite them: “They thought if I sounded desperate people would rally to my cause and protest.”
After nearly six months—and without explanation—his captivity ended, and Fowle found himself on a plane headed home.
About three weeks after his release, the North Koreans released two other American detainees, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller. Fowle wonders whether his situation somehow helped them: “Things did not unfold like I had planned. But maybe this was God’s way to get Bae and Miller out as well. I’ll let God be the judge of whether this was a good or a bad idea.”
[Excerpts of a WORLD article, by Julie Borg]