Fri, May 12, 2017 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: N Korean university attracts evangelicals, despite risks

Reuters, SEOUL

Like many other Americans who went to teach at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), Kim Hak-song is a Christian missionary who raised money from a church to go to North Korea.

Kim had been running PUST’s experimental farm before he was detained on Saturday last week while traveling by train from Pyongyang to the border town of Dandong, China, PUST chancellor and cofounder Park Chan-mo told reporters.

The university, which is open about its Christian affiliation, has said its sole mission is to help North Korea’s future elite learn the skills to modernize the isolated country and engage with the outside world.

Former teachers have said the faculty is careful to avoid anything that looks like missionary work.

The university attracts a steady stream of devout US Christians, despite North Korea’s history of handing down long sentences with hard labor to missionaries accused of various transgressions.

North Korea has in the past used detainees to extract concessions, including high-profile visits from the US, which has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Park said about 60 US citizens work at the university each semester, but now “there’s less than that.”

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Kim was detained for “hostile acts,” without elaborating.

Tony Kim, another professor who worked at the university, was arrested two weeks earlier for a similar reason.

A spokesman for the university, which opened in 2010, said the arrests of the two faculty members were “not connected in any way with the work of PUST.”

The White House on Monday said the latest reported detentions were “concerning,” adding that the US Department of State was working with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang to seek their release.

Two years before he was detained, Kim Hak-song raised money for his trip to North Korea from members of the Korean-language Sao Paulo Oriental Mission church in Brazil, according to his post on the church’s Web site.

“I’ve committed to devoting my last drop of blood to this work,” he wrote.

According to Korean-language church Web sites, Kim Hak-song, a Chinese-Korean and naturalized US citizen, had been doing missionary work in China before joining PUST.

His detention makes him the fourth American in North Korean custody.

In March last year, North Korea sentenced US college student Otto Warmbier to 15 years of hard labor for the alleged theft of a propaganda poster.

South Korean-born Kim Dong-chul, a naturalized US citizen, was a month later convicted and sentenced to 10 years hard labor — shortly after Washington levied more sanctions against Pyongyang in response to a missile test in February that year.

Founded by Korean-American evangelical Christian James Kim, PUST spends roughly US$2 million annually on operating expenses, the school said in a statement.

Much of those funds come from the Korean diaspora in the US, along with churches in South Korea and private foundations and philanthropists.

The university has 500 undergraduate students and 60 graduate students in mostly three departments — electronic and computer engineering; international finance and management; and agriculture and life sciences.

The school recruits many of its teachers from South Korean churches and Christian colleges in the US. Faculty receive no income or stipends from the university, but do get housing and cafeteria meals.

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