On a North Korean mission

NorthKoreanflagEarlier this year, former President Clinton helped negotiate the release of two American journalists who were held in North Korea for five months after crossing the border illegally. Now an American missionary has crossed into North Korea's borders calling on Kim Jong Il to shut down the country's political prison camps.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see coverage early on and interested to see if it keeps up. Here's coverage from South Korea by The New York Times:

"I am an American citizen," Robert Park, 28, said as he crossed the frozen river separating China from North Korea on Friday, according to Jo Sung-rae, head of Pax Koreana, a conservative civic group based in Seoul. "I am coming here to deliver God's love. God loves you."

By early Sunday, there was no word of his fate from North Korea.

Before heading to China last week to make the journey, Mr. Park said he was determined to become a "martyr" for the tens of thousands of people said to be incarcerated in North Korea's infamous concentration camps, Mr. Jo said.

In a videotaped message he made before the trip, Mr. Park said he wanted to be arrested and had no intention of leaving North Korea voluntarily until it shuts down its camps. He also said he did not want President Obama to "buy his freedom."

Of course, the Times considers the impact on Washington's diplomatic relations with North Korea, but I'm also curious how South Korean churches might respond, since they send out a lot of missionaries. I'm guessing there will be mixed reactions as some might consider him brave while others might consider him foolish. The Times's article is worth a read because it does a nice job of giving readers some context of North Korea's situation and offering some background of the missionary.

The Associated Press has more background from the missionary's parents who heard from their son December 23 in an e-mail.

"Know that I am the happiest in all my life," his e-mail said. "Incredible miracles are happening in the liberation of North Koreans right now ... We are going to see a big and beautiful change in Korea and in the World this year!"

A Tuscan-based television station also reports on how Park's background as a missionary.

"We call him a modern-day John the Baptist. That's literally what we call him," said Pastor John Benson.

Benson said that he ordained Park as a missionary in late 2007, and said that Park's capacity for prayer surprised even him.

"We were kind of a place told him, 'hey, Robert, it's okay man, let's go eat. Let's go sleep. We would pray and then Robert would pray after the prayer meeting, on the way home," Pastor Benson said.

We saw a lot of coverage of the journalists detained in the same country earlier this year, as journalists love covering other journalists. It will be interesting to see whether they continue to cover this development in the same way.

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