Another American detained in North Korea over a Bible

North Korea announced Friday that it has detained a U.S. citizen who it says entered the secretive country as a tourist and broke the law. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency gave the American’s name as Jeffrey Edward Fowle, saying he arrived as a tourist on April 29.

The news brings the number of Americans believed to be held in the communist nation to three.

Citing unidentified diplomatic sources, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that Fowle was part of a tour group and that he was detained in mid-May after allegedly leaving a Bible in a hotel where he had been staying.

North Korea said in late April it was holding a different American man, who it claimed came the country seeking asylum. He tore his tourist visa and shouted that “he would seek asylum” and “came to the DPRK (North Korea) after choosing it as a shelter,” KCNA said. KCNA identified that man as Miller Matthew Todd, who it says was taken into custody on April 10.

North Korea is also holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in 2013 by a court that said he had carried out acts aimed at bringing down the regime of leader Kim Jong Un.


Reasons why North Korea is not the worst place on earth to be a Christian

North Korea has been described as “the worst place on earth to be a Christian.” The leader of one ministry working with the North Korean Underground Church points out that is not how the Christians of North Korea themselves feel, as well as offering his own perspective.

The Rev. Eric Foley, CEO of Seoul USA, says “Our reckoning that North Korea is the worst place to be a Christian says more about our own understanding of Christianity than it does about North Korea.” Adds Foley, “North Korean underground Christians are among the least likely group to defect since they feel their existence in North Korea has divine purpose.”

Foley offers his list of “10 Reasons North Korea is not the Worst Place to be a Christian”, amongst them:

  1. If you are a Christian in a country where no Christians are suffering for Jesus you probably ought to be more concerned — than if you are a Christian in a country where nearly every Christian is suffering for Jesus.
  2. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you…For your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5: 11–12).
  3. We Western Christians sometimes confuse God with Mammon. North Korean Christians daily see the difference clearly.


Missionary activity in North Korea

Missionaries have sought to evangelize in North Korea, as the totalitarian country forbids independent religious activities. Although North Korea contains a number of state-controlled churches, they are considered for show to international audiences, according to a report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.

Religion, especially Christianity, is viewed as a political threat because the state does not condone any belief system other than its official state ideology, according to the report.

Witnesses claim that underground churches function inside North Korea, according to the U.N. report. Also, missionaries and underground churches have secretly set up in China near the border to aid defectors.

North Korea is currently holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American, who was arrested in November 2012. Bae was sentenced in May 2013, accused of trying to topple the North Korean government and bringing religious activities into the country. He has remained in North Korean custody despite efforts by the U.S. and his family.

More recently, North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced a South Korean man to life of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the country, according to its state-run news agency, KCNA. The South Korean, identified as Kim Jong Uk, averted the death sentence because he allegedly “repented of his crimes,” which included an attempt to set up an underground church inside the country.

Kim said he had worked as a missionary for several years on the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, running a church that sought North Korean converts.


North Korea sentences South Korean Christian to hard labor for life

North Korea said Saturday it has sentenced a South Korean Baptist missionary to hard labor for life for allegedly spying and trying to set up underground churches, the latest in a string of missionaries to run into trouble in the rigidly controlled North.

North Korean state media said the missionary was tried Friday and admitted to anti-North Korean religious acts and “malignantly hurting the dignity” of the country’s supreme leadership, a reference to the ruling Kim family. The rival Koreas have different English spelling styles for Korean names, so the North called the missionary Kim Jong Uk, but Seoul has previously referred to him as Kim Jung Wook.

North Korea’s official news agency KCNA said in its report on the trial, “The accused admitted to all his crimes: he committed anti-DPRK religious acts, malignantly hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK overseas and tried to infiltrate into Pyongyang … for the purpose of setting up an underground church and gathering information about the internal affairs of the DPRK while luring its inhabitants into South Korea and spying on the DPRK.”

Kim had been based largely in Dandong, in China, since 2007, from where he helped North Korean defectors get to South Korea via Thailand, Laos and other countries. Kim was born in 1964, Joo said, making him 49 or 50.

In August 2012, a group of 12 North Korean women were caught by Chinese authorities while they were at Kim’s shelter and sent back to North Korea.

Christian missionaries have been drawn over the years to totalitarian North Korea, which tolerates only strictly sanctioned religious services. North Korean defectors have said that the distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution.

[AP and Agence France-Presse]