BosNewsLife Asia Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
PYONGYANG/SEOUL (BosNewsLife)– There was concern Thursday, May 30, over the whereabouts of an American evangelical missionary after North Korea confirmed it had sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for alleged “hostile acts” against the Communist-run isolated state.
Pae Jun-ho, known in the U.S. as Kenneth Bae, was tried on April 30, the state news agency KCNA said.
The 44-year-old Christian, who is of Korean descent, entered the country as a tour operator. However new video material monitored by BosNewsLife confirm that his intentions were to evangelize and organize mass prayers that he apparently believed would bring the North Korean state to an end.
He was detained November 3, 2012, while with a group of tourists in the northeastern port city of Rason (Rajin). During his trips, Bae apparently also visited and fed orphans, a topic he is believed to have mentioned during a sermon he gave at a Missouri church in 2009.
“We have a new project called ‘Operation Jericho’, the Christian told the church, according to the video seen by BosNewsLife. “Just as God made people enter Jericho and collapse it without force, I hope the wall between us will collapse soon, through just our praying and worship in the Rason area,” Bae said.
The sermon also revealed that Bae worked with a missionary team in North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and had hoped to find among U.S. churches 300 volunteers to go to the country’s Rason city to pray and worship.
Clandestine Christian evangelizing within the country’s borders is strictly forbidden. The Christian activities are often referred to by the country’s leadership as “anti-government crimes” and “hostile acts.”
North Korean authorities have reportedly said that Bae gave Christian sermons denigrating the North Korean regime.
Officials also accuse Bae of having “infiltrated” 250 students into Rason, trying to establish a base of anti-regime activity in his hotel there. Additionally, Bea was charged with smuggling “inflammatory”, anti-Pyongyang literature into the country, according to reports monitored by BosNewsLife.
That appears to include a 2007 National Geographic television documentary about sneaking one of the magazine’s reporters into North Korea. It’s called “Don’t Tell My Mother That I Am in North Korea.”
The documentary includes a section about the two National Geographic filmmakers visit to what they say is one of three Catholic churches in Pyongyang, the capital. It soon becomes clear that all attending the 20-minute sermon of singing are all Communist Party members and there is no ordained priest.
North Korea has declined to give more details about the prison where the missionary has been held.
He joins the at least 100,000 Christians who missionary groups claim are trapped in the country’s feared prison camps, where they reportedly face torture, forced labor and possible execution.
Most are said to have been detained for refusing to worship North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung’s cult.
Despite the hardship, there are at least 400,000 devoted North Korean Christians in the impoverished country, according to Open Doors, a mission group supporting reportedly persecuted believers.
The detention of the American Christian comes at a sensitive time in the region. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, already sparked a regional crisis by testing a potentially lethal nuclear weapon and then revoking the armistice with South Korea and threatening immediate attack.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Pentagon warned that North Korea’s continuing development of nuclear technology and long-range ballistic missiles will move it closer to its stated goal of being able to hit the United States with an atomic weapon.
Analysts say Pyongyang could be using the jailed American as leverage to avoid more harsh sanctions. The United Nations already expanded sanctions against the Communist state in March, following the initial February 12 nuclear test and December long-range rocket launch.
North Korea reacted angrily both to the measures and annual US-South Korea military exercises which saw high-profile displays of American military hardware.
It threatened to attack American military bases around the region and cut key hotlines with South Korea. The Asian country also withdrew its workers from the North-South joint industrial zone at Kaesong, and prevented South Korean workers from crossing the border into the area.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
Help BosNewsLife to be the voice of the voiceless. Click here for a subscription.