As American citizen Kenneth Bae begins serving 15 years of hard labor at a “special prison” in North Korea for alleged hostile acts against the state, two videos related to the tour guide and Christian missionary have emerged that may shed light on Bae’s evangelism activities in the oppressive communist country.
North Korea’s official news agency has revealed that Bae, a 44-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen with family living in Washington state, entered prison on Tuesday, May 14, with no other details given on the location, name or specific type of prison, according to The Associated Press.
Bae, who was put on trial and sentenced in April, reportedly lived in China close to the Korean border and frequently led tours into the country. Bae was arrested Nov. 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 may have mentioned during a sermon he gave at a Missouri church in 2009.
In his message, delivered in Korean and recorded on video, Bae apparently speaks of rallying Christians to prayer to help bring down the walls of division between the so-called hermit kingdom and the rest of the world.
“We have a new project called ‘Operation Jericho.’ 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, according to a NK News translation accessed by The Washington Post.
The sermon also reveals 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.
Bae’s sermon appears to be related to the charges brought against him by North Korean officials, as noted by the WP.
The publication’s Max Fisher summarizes the charges made by North Korean officials in a separate report:
- They say that Bae gave lectures and/or Christian sermons (he’s reportedly quite devout and, North Korea says, was preaching in China as a missionary) denigrating the North Korean regime. Though he’s accused of calling for the government’s downfall, notoriously sensitive Pyongyang officials might have mistaken criticism for subversion.
- North Korea also charges that Bae “infiltrated” 250 students into Rason and tried to establish a base of anti-regime activity in his hotel there. It’s not clear what any of this means but don’t be surprised, again, if North Korea is exaggerating.
- Finally, he’s accused of smuggling inflammatory, anti-Pyongyang literature into the country. That appears to include a 2007 National Geographic 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 2007 National Geographic video cited by North Korean officials documents a visit to the country in which narrator Diego Bunuel provides a surprising view of worshippers in Sunday mass at a Catholic church, apparently one of three such state-sanctioned churches in Pyongyang. Bunuel learns that there are no ordained priests in North Korea and that mass is led by party members, one of whom answers his questions on camera. An excerpt of the segment from the video purportedly found on Bae can be viewed below (or on YouTube):