WASHINGTON – Lovers of freedom around the globe rejoiced to hear the news on 10 May 2018 that three Americans held prisoner in North Korea had been returned to the U.S. When the men and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived at Joint Base Andrews at 2:00 a.m., President Trump was on hand to greet them.
Despite the prolific media coverage, little was known about the three men and why they had been imprisoned. Religion News Service published an eye-opening story about one of the former prisoners, Kim Hak Song. That report unveiled the heretofore unknown story of a modern-day Daniel as it covered his Christian testimony and sermon at the Oriental Mission Church in East Hollywood, California.
The world news identified Kim correctly as an agricultural expert working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a school founded by evangelical Christians and attended by “elite North Koreans.”
Kim is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Jilin, China to Korean parents. He moved to the U.S. prior to the turn of the century to attend seminary. He was ordained in 2004.
His passion for his people led to return to China to study agriculture in Yanbian, hoping to use his learned skills to help improve rice-growing techniques in famine-plagued North Korea. Although he went to China with the blessings of the Oriental Mission Church, while in China he decided that it was time to take his skills to Pyongyang. In addition to his professorial duties, Kim was working on the development of an experimental prototype rice farm.
Kim was arrested on a train bound for Dandong, China, in October 2015. He was accused of hostile acts toward North Korea. He was baffled at the grounds for his arrest. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t know what I did wrong.’”
His captors told him that they had all the evidence they needed and that it would go easier on him if he simply confessed.
This is where his situation became similar to Daniel in the Old Testament (See Daniel 6 chapter 6). It turns out that his crime was prayer. Daniel was entrapped in a scheme in which no one was allowed “to petition any god or man” other than King Darius. That decree was issued only for a few days. North Korea is a country where ruler worship is considered permanent.
Although Kim protested that he had not broken any laws against the promotion of religion, the government had records that he had been the leader of a morning prayer group and a copy of an email in which he requested prayer for the people of North Korea.
Ultimately, Kim was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016 after reading a forced confession in which he admitted: “By donating money and goods, I was trying to make the people here believe a fantasy about religion and the western world in order to wipe out their ideology of worshipping their leader.”
There were no lions in Kim’s cell waiting to devour him. Nevertheless, he suffered the loneliness and pain of isolation, intensified by a windowless cell in which he lost track of time and days. The irony is that Kim was able to freely do the thing that landed him in jail.
He was able to pray.
- Religion News Service, Arrested for Praying, Released Detainee Now Prays about Next Steps
- BBC News, North Korea-US talks: Who are North Korea’s American detainees?
- CNN, These Are the Three Americans Released by North Korea
- Public Domain, U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordyn Fetter