Why US Christians Risk Their Lives to Teach in North Korea

Two arrested from private university in Pyongyang that gives evangelicals a way in.

The recent arrest of two American citizens working in North Korea has brought attention to the curious case of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), an American-founded, evangelical-affiliated school in the capital city of the world’s most notorious dictatorship.

It’s hard to think of a less likely place for American Christians to teach than North Korea, a country the United States has not had diplomatic ties with for over 60 years and where religious freedom does not exist.

Kim Hak Song and Kim Sang Duk, both Christians and professors teaching at PUST, the only private university in North Korea, were detained last month on charges of “hostile” acts or intent against the North Korean government—the same allegation that kept Youth With a Mission missionary Kenneth Bae in prison for more than two years, longer than any other American arrested in the country. (Bae was finally released, in ailing health, in 2014.)

PUST, which CT featured in 2012, is open about its affiliation but understandably reserved about evangelicalism. Its spokesperson has stated that the recent arrests are unrelated to activity at the school, which was founded by Korean-American evangelical James Kim in 2010 following the success of a similar venture—Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST)—on the Chinese side of the border.

“An unofficial deal was struck between PUST and the regime that allowed the evangelicals to build the school in Pyongyang, fund it, and teach the students, as long as they do not discuss Christianity in public,” Suki Kim, a writer who lived for six months at PUST, toldThe Washington Post. “PUST offers a mutually beneficial arrangement for both North …

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