From AP, via the Washington Post:
Like most North Koreans, Son Jong Nam knew next to nothing about Christianity when he fled to neighboring China in 1998.In the past I have been highly critical of the likes of Robert Park and Aijalon Mahli Gomes, whose high-profile visits seem more designed as PR stunts of sorts, or perhaps efforts to feed their messiah complex. But I see things like this in a very different light. Even if Mr Son was not doing something tangibly practical like ferrying starving citizens out of North Korea or moving refugees-in-hiding out of China and into Mongolia or Vietnam where they can move on to South Korea or elsewhere, his evangelism is providing hope and a viable alternative to the beleaguered North Koreans around him. I am Christian, but I would hope non-Christians as well could see some secular value in what he's doing.
Eleven years later, he died back in North Korea in prison, reportedly tortured to death for trying to spread the Gospel in his native land, armed with 20 bibles and 10 cassette tapes of hymns. He was 50.
His story, pieced together by his younger brother, a defector who lives in South Korea, sheds light on a little-discussed practice: the sending back of North Korean converts to evangelize in their home country - a risky move, but one of the few ways to penetrate a country that bars most citizens from outside TV or radio and the Internet.
Little is known about the practice, believed to have started in the late 1990s. Missionaries won't say how many defectors they have sent back, citing their safety and that of the defectors.
"It's their country, where people speak the same language. They know where to go and where to escape," says the Rev. Isaac Lee, a Korean-American missionary in Seoul who has dedicated his life to spreading Christianity in the North. "But I agonize a lot whenever I have to send defectors to the North as I know what kind of punishment they would get if arrested."
Officially, North Korea guarantees freedom of religion for its 24 million people. In practice, authorities crack down on Christians, who are seen as a Western-influenced threat to the government. The distribution of bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution, defectors say.