Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Robert Park

The news media has reported that an American, apparently Robert Park, illegally crossed from the PRC into North Korea last week and was almost immediately taken into custody by North Korean authorities. The story has not received a tremendous amount of attention in the mainline press. I’m rather fascinated by both Mr. Park’s decision to go to North Korea, as well as the relative lack of interest by the American media.

Mr. Park is apparently 28 years old and from Tucson, Arizona. He also has family ties to San Diego, where his parents and brother live. Mr. Park is Korean American. He is also a devout Christian. When he entered North Korean territory, it is reported he stated, "I am an American citizen. I brought God's love. God loves you and God bless you." It is also reported that when he entered North Korea, he had a letter for Kim Jong Il which read: "[God] loves you and wants to save you and all of North Korea today. Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive. Please close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners today, and allow care teams to enter to minister healing to those who have been tortured and traumatized." Mr. Park’s father, Pyong Park, has stated that his son said “I'm not afraid to die as long as the whole world, every nation, pays attention to the North Korea situation."

Robert Park apparently has done a lot of work with his church for a number of years. It has been reported that he ministered regularly to the poor in Nogales, Mexico (across the border from Arizona). He went to South Korea last summer and apparently prolonged his stay because he was so deeply touched by the plight of the North Korean people. His mother explained, “He felt their pain so much.” Mr. Park had been in the PRC ministering to the needs of North Koreans who were escaping their country, but he reportedly gave up that effort because of the PRC government’s policy to return such North Koreans to their home country, which exposed them to harsh punishment. In San Diego and Tucson churches, prayer vigils have been organized on behalf of Mr. Park. In San Diego, Rev. Madison Shockley said, “Robert is doing what God called on him to do. We call this speaking truth to power."

Personally, I’m not sure what to make of Mr. Park. Part of me thinks he is a misguided young man who has risked an international uproar with the crazed dictator of an already unstable and dangerously closed society. However, another part of me admires Mr. Park's apparently profound love and empathy for the misery of North Koreans, and his willingness to sacrifice his own life in a desperate attempt to bring attention to a forgotten region of great suffering. Indeed, it makes me ashamed that I myself haven’t been more concerned about the people of North Korea. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure if Mr. Park has more in common with Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab or Oscar Romero.

I am also fascinated by the relative lack of interest in this story by the mainline American media. In many media reports, Mr. Park is described as a “missionary.” However, I’m not sure what that label means exactly in his context. Perhaps the secular media just doesn’t know how else to label a young man who goes to a reclusive nation proclaiming God’s love. In fact, I wonder if Mr. Park’s apparent religious motivation for going to North Korea may be responsible at least in part for the relative lack of media interest in this story. I suspect that many in the mainline media instinctively think proclaiming God’s love as a motivation for anything—let alone the potentially suicidal act of illegally entering North Korea—is evidence of being mentally unbalanced (or at least dim witted).

Luke 1:78-79

God's love and kindness
will shine upon us
like the sun that rises
in the sky. On us who live
in the dark shadow
of death
this light will shine
to guide us
into a life of peace.

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