(Photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon)
The Kim Jong-il regime thought it broke Robert Park, the Korean-American who illegally entered North Korea last Christmas, but it is wrong. In spite of the torture and humiliation he endured, he is back in South Korea speaking out against the regime and he knows the North is observing his every move.
“The regime of Kim Jong-il is watching me and they are aware of what I am doing. They are disturbed by what I am doing so I have some kind of leverage with them because of the things that happened,” said Park to The Christian Post Thursday morning, the 62nd anniversary of the often-forgotten U.N. Genocide Convention.
“They never expected that I would speak out against them ever again,” he noted. “God was able to do what is inconceivable for man. He really did a miracle through my life for me to want to rise again … I never wanted to face this regime again after the things that happened.”
Park, a Christian activist originally from Tucson, Ariz., was released from prison in February after being arrested by North Korea on Christmas Day 2009 for crossing the frozen Tumen River and entering the country without permission.
Although the then 28-year-old was ready to die for the cause when he crossed the border, he was unprepared for the type of torture he would be subjected to while in prison. Park said he could bear the violent abuse, which he expected, but another form of torture, sexual, left him broken. He requested not to talk about the torture in detail for mental health reasons, but said that he left North Korea in “so much pain” and he attempted suicide several times after being freed.
But while recovering in a hospital back in America, God slowly healed his wounds and showed him the way to stand up again. He said God kept showing him verses in Jeremiah 1:17-19, about standing up, using the strength of God against kings; Proverbs 8-9 and Psalm 82:2-4, about speaking against and fighting injustice; and Job 38, where God reminds afflicted Job of his greatness.
“The principle that we learn in the Bible is that self-preservation is never the way to see God’s kingdom, to see God’s glory, to see God’s restoration,” said Park, citing the verse that says believers must lose their life to gain it. “If we sell out the North Koreans … sell out the people that are starving to death by the Kim Jong-il regime for our own security, for temporary peace on our side of the border, there will be severe consequences in the future.”
Park wanted to do the interview with The Christian Post on Dec. 9, the anniversary of the Genocide Convention, which defines what constitutes genocide and gives the international community authority to intervene in such an event.
In Article 2, the Convention says genocide includes “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…”. Park emphasizes that the international community has the right under this U.N. Convention to intervene in North Korea where there is genocide of Christians.
North Korean citizens are forced to adhere to a personality cult revolving around Kim Jong-il and his deceased father. A citizen discovered to be a Christian is immediately arrested, imprisoned, tortured and sometimes even publicly executed as a warning to others. Not only is the individual believer affected, but the law dictates that three generations of the person’s family should also be imprisoned and punished.
Earlier this year, AsiaNews reported that three leaders of the underground church in North Korea were executed in May after authorities raided a house where believers were gathering for religious activity. And The Associated Press in 2009 reported that a 33-year-old Christian woman accused of distributing Bibles and “spying” for foreign countries was publicly executed in North Korea.
There are an estimated 400,000 Christians in North Korea, with an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Christians in prison labor camps because of their faith, according to Open Doors, a ministry that supports persecuted Christians.
Since North Korea has the intention to destroy a religious group, Christian, it therefore violates the international law established by the Genocide Convention, Park asserted. The international community has the right to intervene and must do so not only based on the motive of self-preservation but with the purpose of bringing freedom to the most oppressed population in the world, he said.
“I have a great deal of sadness right now because the regime of Kim Jong-il is really winning. They get away with everything that they do. Part of the Gospel is accountability, Christians are called to proclaim justice,” he remarked.
Moving the Church
Park does not solely blame governments for slow progress in North Korea, but puts heavy responsibility on the Church for not caring. He compared the murder of North Koreans by the Kim Jong-il regime to the Holocaust and Hitler’s Nazi rule.
Similar to during the Holocaust, few Christians now are standing up to the dictator and working to save those he is murdering.
The Christian activist asks the Church to do three things: understand that what is happening in North Korea is not God’s will, stop working with Kim Jong-il and work through North Korean refugees; and advocate for human rights in North Korea.
Park said his observation of non-governmental organizations led him to “unequivocally” conclude that North Korean refugees in South Korea are the most effective at meeting the needs of those still living in the North. Because the refugees are supporting their own families in the North, their heart is more urgent than NGOs that work on their own timetable, he said.
“People need to stop giving money, aid to Kim Jong-il regime because that is the equivalent of giving Hitler the money and aid when you are trying to save the Jews,” said Park, who emphasized that the money and aid does not reach the people. “If we want to feed the Jews who are starving, it wouldn’t make sense to give money to Hitler and give food to Hitler.”
The Church must act decisively, he said, because eventually North Koreans will be freed and if Christians did nothing to help their freedom then history and God will judge them. The Church must be a catalyst for change and reveal God’s heart for the North Korean people. Otherwise, once they are freed they will not believe in God because God did not show up through His people when they were calling out for help, Park said.
“The majority of Christians in Nazi Germany feared Hitler. They wanted to protect their own churches and their own security and as a result they sold out the Jews,” said Park, comparing the situations. “Many of them lied to themselves and said, ‘God is doing this. God is punishing the Jews for the death of Christ.’ All these crazy excuses and lies. What it really came down to was they were afraid to confront the Holocaust because they knew they could lose their lives in the process.”
In January, the U.S. envoy for human rights in North Korea, Robert King, stated that the rights situation in the North is one of the worst in the world during his mission-finding trip to South Korea. He described the rights situation in the North as “appalling.”
Recalling his experience in North Korea, Park said his imprisonment reinforced what he already knew about North Korea but also deepened his understanding of how “horrifying” the regime is. He described the regime as “madness, psychopath, not knowing why they are wrong and not functioning with any basic moral standard.” Everyone there only knew that they must protect the leader Kim Jong-il at all cost, he said.
Park decided to return to South Korea in October to continue speaking out on behalf of North Koreans because people in South Korea were more urgent about the issue than in America, he said. He explained that he crossed the border nearly a year ago because governments involved in negotiating with North Korea only cared about the nuclear issue and rarely talked about the human rights issue. Park decided to risk his life to draw international attention to the human rights abuse in the North because there was no catalyst to spark global attention on human rights in the reclusive country.
The current tension between the North and South is the “prefect time” for the Church to rise and take on the issue, he said. The Kim Jong-il regime is vulnerable given the high-level of dissatisfaction among citizens and the appointed successor has not stabilized his power. An urgent heart to put the needs of the least of the brothers, those suffering in North Korea, above his own led Park to return to South Korea to continue his work.
“My whole desire and dream is to see the North Korean people have a chance to experience God’s love and to be saved and to be healthy physically and spiritually,” said Park. “For me, it is absolutely urgent. For me, this can’t go on for another day and I believe that is something pleasing to God for us to think like that.”