In 2014, American Kenneth Bae came home after two years in a North Korean prison. Bae had made 18 trips to North Korea. Before he was “prisoner 103 [in the North Korean penal system],” Korean-born Kenneth Bae was a preacher. But he made a fateful mistake. In 2012, he brought in a computer hard drive loaded with prayers and pictures of starving North Korean children.
Any criticism of the regime is forbidden. Supreme leader Kim Jong Un and his family consider themselves gods. He was arrested, charged with espionage and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
“One of the prosecutors told me that I was the worst, most dangerous American criminal they ever apprehended since the Korean War. And I said, ‘Why?'” Bae recalled. “And they said, ‘Because not only you came to do mission work on your own, you asked others to join.'”
Bae believes he was a political pawn. “All of America really was on trial with me,” Bae wrote in his new book, ‘Not Forgotten.’ “I believe that they blamed everything wrong with their country [on] America. They said the reason for poverty, the reason for their suffering is all caused by U.S. foreign policy against them,” Bae said. “And therefore, by indicting me, they were indicting the U.S.”
Bae spent nearly two years under 24-hour watch by 30 North Korean guards. The conditions were dire – he shoveled coal and worked the fields. He lost 50 pounds and was briefly hospitalized.
“I am looking in the mirror in the bathroom every day, and say, ‘remember, you are a missionary. This is what you are here for,'” Bae said. “I took it more as a blessing, rather than a curse or suffering… Well it is very hard for me to even say that right now, but no one likes suffering, no one will embrace suffering but when suffering comes to you, you have to face it.”
Kim Jong Un finally issued a pardon in 2014, after the White House sent U.S. Intelligence Chief James Clapper to pick up Bae and another prisoner. “I was just overwhelmed that– that after being there for 735 days, I was finally going home,” Bae said.
Bae said he’s not angry about his imprisonment. He believes it was an opportunity to share his faith and teach his guards what life is like outside of North Korea. “I was just there to love the people, let people know that God cares about them, and the rest of the world care about them,” Bae said. “I hope that this book become a reminder to people to not forget the people of North Korea, have more compassion for the people who are living as a prisoner in their life.”