North Korea Detains Another Christian Missionary

A 75-year-old Australian missionary has been detained in Pyongyang—his wife believes the arrest is due to the religious pamphlets he carried into the country

  • Share
  • Read Later
Photo provided by family

John Short

Australian missionary John Short was scheduled to return to China this Friday from a group tour to North Korea. But a day after landing in the country last weekend, the 75-year-old was questioned and detained, his wife, Karen Short, says. She got the news Wednesday when his traveling companion journeyed back solo. “I pray for my husband to come back soon,” she told TIME.

North Korea has yet to comment on Short’s case, but his family believes he was probably apprehended for carrying Korean-language Christian pamphlets into the secretive state. On a previous trip to North Korea, Short read Christian literature in front of his guides, Karen told the press. She said he has also been arrested in China three times for evangelizing. “He knew that the documents he was carrying are illegal and that the information he wanted to spread is not welcome,” she said. “He is always going to places where religion is not welcome to spread the word.”

Until there is official word from Pyongyang, there is no way to know if the pamphlet theory is correct. But it is increasingly clear that North Korea has three red lines: unauthorized reporting, spying and proselytizing. U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested in 2009 while reporting at the China-North Korea border. Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old American who was detained last fall, was a former special forces soldier affiliated with a Korean War-era clandestine unit. Current American prisoner Kenneth Bae is, like Short, a missionary. He was arrested on a group tour in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

North Korea has complex and highly fraught relationship with Christianity. Missionaries came to the Korean peninsula before the turn of the last century and quickly gained ground. During Japanese colonial rule, the faith flourished in what is now North Korea, particularly among intellectuals. The country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, was born in 1912 into a Protestant family. By the 1940s, Pyongyang was the “most Protestant of all major cities of Korea,” writes North Korea expert Andrei Lankov. Its nickname: “The Jerusalem of the East.”

After the the Korean War divided the peninsula, an ascendant Kim Il Sung became more fearful of the faith. Protestantism was branded an instrument of American imperialism. Churches were shuttered, and the Bible banned. Instead, writes Barbara Demick in Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Christian symbols were appropriated to promote Kim himself: “What distinguished [Kim] in the rogues’ gallery of twentieth-century dictators was his ability to harness the power of faith,” she writes.

Kim and his descendants have built a cult of personality that leaves little room for other creeds. North Korea is officially atheist, but organized religion is repressed and the Kims are worshiped like Gods. School children are taught that the Kim men — the trinity of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un — have nearly supernatural powers.  Kim Il Sung’s date of birth is the most important day in the calendar, so much so that in 1997 the country abandoned the Christian calendar for one that begins on April 15, 1912. Portraits of the Kims hold a place of reverence.

The cult of Kim helps keep them in power, and fear plays a crucial role. The regime has spent years insisting that the country is under attack — from the U.S., its South Korean allies, and Christianity. If the government goes public with Short’s arrest, it will likely be to bolster that narrative. Merrill Newman was forced to publicly confess his alleged crimes against the country. John Short may be forced to do the same.

Getting Short out will require difficult diplomatic maneuvering. Australia, like the U.S., does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea. Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said the country’s interests will be represented by the Swedish embassy, and that they are working with Swedish officials on the case.  The release this week of a scathing U.N. report that accuses North Korea of “crimes against humanity” may heighten the atmosphere of anger and distrust.

It is too soon to know what fate awaits the Australian. Karen Short says he was carrying flyers he wrote titled “Does it matter what I believe?” at the time of his arrest. The material is religious, she says, not political. Reached at the Christian Book Store that she and her husband run in Hong Kong, Karen said she worried North Korean authorities would “dig out anything they want and build a case.” North Korea, she said, “is not known for telling the truth.”

Despite that, she is staying calm for now. As she told reporters, “he’s in God’s hands.”

—With reporting by Michelle Arrouas /Hong Kong

80 comments
Zhan  Karl
Zhan Karl

It's not strange in NK…But it's really bad for the old man.Pray for him~

davidmateo1911
davidmateo1911

"Anti-racists" talk to us about two things:

1. How White people are genetically evil, how we are responsible for our ancestors misdeeds, and how we don't actually exist. All of this going in the direction of a future without White children- GENOCIDE.

2. How they're not anti-White.

Who do you think you are kidding?

That's why we all know anti-racist is a codeword for anti-White.

Melissa Harris
Melissa Harris

That is a good point Doreen. Maybe because laws and humans should not own another person's conscience. A real leader would liberate his people. What does it say about a person in NK that is willing to take a bible and risk death? It says alot to me :)

Doreen M Connors-Sulger
Doreen M Connors-Sulger

Ok, what's wrong with what he said. It's right on.If h went to distribute Bibles, any north korean found with one would be killed if found with one, as well as his or her own family being imprisoned. If you know anything about their prisons that's a fate worse than death.

JamesH1
JamesH1

Hello!

I've started the petition "President of the United States and united states congress: We call upon the President and Congress to levy an import tax on China until the Chinese Government stops support for North Korea" and need your help to get it off the ground.

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the link:

http://www.change.org/petitions/president-of-the-united-states-and-united-states-congress-we-call-upon-the-president-and-congress-to-levy-an-import-tax-on-china-until-the-chinese-government-stops-support-for-north-korea

Melissa Harris
Melissa Harris

Oscar Izard.....a secure person would not answer the door naked and its very immature. So, congratulations i guess? No govt, person, or law will take presidence over me speaking my beliefs. You may be willing to let some person restric your life but I am not I HAVE COURAGE :)

kf6gsd
kf6gsd

The reason this one is in power, with no fear, is because the country exists itself. not because of itself, but because

of the support it received at a time when there existed, at the time, one who believed he, himself, was greater than

the powers that placed him in the forefront at time time. 

There were conversations, by the greater powers, which could have changed the outcome of the Korean Conflict.  Seems the warlord may well have become too embraced with his own past glories to remember his responsibilities.

World knows the resulting impact.  Veterans are still coming forth to share the truth of actual events from the battle

fields and not just the glorified "Men At War" programs being aired.

   Kim Jong Un is a punk. His neighbors may not like him at all, finding him to be an unscratchable irritation. However,

they are neighbors. Anyone else is an outsider, an intruder. 

   He isn't listening to anyone.  But, this warlord doesn't have to.


Oscar Izard
Oscar Izard

And Katie O'Connell Evans, your right.

Oscar Izard
Oscar Izard

Melissa Harris all this shows is that maybe people don't like being told what to believe. That's why when JoeHo's come a callin' I answer the door naked

Patricio43
Patricio43

Hopefully they will not release this jerk.

Nimssy S Chavez
Nimssy S Chavez

I pray that God bless this man and touches some high rank officials heart. I pray for Mercy.

Syed Abdul Aziz
Syed Abdul Aziz

Apathid was no difference . In the colonies of England the non European were not allowed to be members of the clubs which they are members

Douglas Eibe
Douglas Eibe

You play with fire and people are surprized when they get burned ?

Jennifer B
Jennifer B

So a man is detained by an evil country and it's OK because he's religious? Tolerant much?

Shane Palmer
Shane Palmer

Compulsive spammer... he (or she) just can't help himself. I think it's an official mental illness...

Amy Player
Amy Player

Why do they keep going over there? Don't they know that Dennis Rodman is the only person that can go and not get kidnapped! #justsaying#

Simon Leung
Simon Leung

Really? Some guy believing he's doing an invisible sky wizard's work isn't nuts? Get a grip.

Dylan Mays
Dylan Mays

Good, while I don't respect NK, this idiot knew the consequences if he was caught. And he was caught. I have no tolerance for people that try to go and shove their religion down the throats of others.

Wendy Allen
Wendy Allen

EDDIE - what the heck does your post have to do with THIS situation???? and why don't YOU so what your co-worker's sister in law did and get off FB???

Josh Anderson
Josh Anderson

I dont feel sorry for him, he knew what he was doing, the risks involved and what could happen to him as a result...

Russell Perkins
Russell Perkins

Can't feel sorry for this bloke. Simple, believe in your religion, and shut the f up about it.

Melissa Harris
Melissa Harris

Just shows how scared NK dictator is scared of information or others thinking for themselves. Control freak.

Pete Allright Mancuso
Pete Allright Mancuso

In the voice of the robot from lost in space : " DANGER...DANGER ...HARRISON HAS EXAUSTED HIS PILL SUPPLY " !!!

Pete Allright Mancuso
Pete Allright Mancuso

@ HARRISON ...STAND DOWN...GIVE IT A REST...WE GET IT ...YOUR PILLS !! LMFAO

Pete Allright Mancuso
Pete Allright Mancuso

Just cause his title is Christian missionary doesn't mean he ONLY does Gods WORK . And saying they ONLY do Gods work shows how little people know about REAL WORLD EVENTS !!

Ben Lewis
Ben Lewis

I think Kim Jong un has a thing for old American men

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

I have the right to be Jewish, I have the right to say things, if people do not like what I say, stop listening

Serena Whittington
Serena Whittington

this guy was probably sent purposely to give 'murka an excuse to start its next war.

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

I am a lone wolf. I work for the betterment of humanity. Hence my theory of liquid spacetime.

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

Life plan: 1. Get job. 2. Go to community college. 3. Go to university. 4. Decide which country to give my genius to.

Lance Duff
Lance Duff

He knew what he was doing. He's just like Kenneth Bae, he went to another country and broke their laws. He knew North Korea didn't allow bibles or preaching or religion and that is exactly why he went. He went to save "the poor North Koreans". I wish he'd realize that if a North Korean was found with a bible they'd probably just be killed. If he wanted to help them he should have brought clothes or blankets.

Cam Jennings
Cam Jennings

You narrow minded parrots that chirp from cul de sac bliss...and all of you deep philosophers here with your comments.

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

I am sick of people mistreating me based on their own bigoted religious beliefs.

IceToes
IceToes

Unfortunately, I don't think mission-based religions are much concerned with people thinking for themselves. The joke's on North Korea if they consider religious propaganda to be "information."

JackShephard
JackShephard

I can say with a fair amount of certainty that God has already saved his soul, and may yet save him from physical danger in NK.


God can do the same for you.