Christian missionaries join North Korean University despite risk of imprisonment

(Reuters/Damir Sagolj)People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017.

Dozens of Christian missionaries from the U.S. are coming to North Korea to join a university, where two professors were recently arrested, despite the risk of imprisonment.

Kim Hak Song was the latest American Christian arrested by North Korean authorities while teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). He had been running the university's experimental farm when he was detained last week, according to Reuters.

Kim, who raised money from a church to come to North Korea, said that he was ready to give everything necessary to help the North Korean people with their needs. "I've committed to devoting my last drop of blood to this work," he said in an online post.

PUST, which was founded by Korean-American evangelical Christian James Kim, is open about its Christian affiliation, but former teachers say that the faculty is careful to avoid anything that appears to be missionary work.

Devout Christians have flocked to the university despite the Communist regime's history of sentencing missionaries to hard labor for various transgressions. Detainees have been used by the regime to extract concessions, including high-profile visits from the U.S., which has no formal diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Chancellor and co-founder Chan-mo Park said that about 60 U.S. citizens come to the university each semester, but now, "there's less than that."

According to North Korea's official news agency KCNA, Kim was arrested for "hostile acts," and another professor at the university was arrested two weeks ago for a similar reason. However, PUST maintained that the arrests had nothing to do with the work of the university.

The detention of the two professors came amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the Communist regime's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The White House stated on Monday that the detentions were "concerning," and it announced that the State Department was working with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang to seek their release.

PUST, which has 500 undergraduate students and 60 graduates students, stated that its sole mission is to "pursue excellence in education, with an international outlook, so that its students are diligent in studies, innovative in research and upright in character, bringing illumination to the Korean people and the world."

The university spends about $2 million each year in operating expenses, most of which comes from private foundations, philanthropists, churches in South Korea and the Korean diaspora in the U.S.

Abraham Kim, the executive director of the Chicago University Bible Fellowship, donated $30,000 in 2013 to the university to build a new medical school. He said that the volunteers at the school cannot directly preach the Gospel, but they can "indirectly influence the people there by being good Christians."

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