Teaching the Dragon
Teaching the Dragon
For decades, Christian college professors have quietly spread the Good News while teaching at secular universities in nations closed to traditional missions. But now, two unusual universities in closed areas of Asia—northeast China and North Korea—are breaking new ground. Christians openly founded state-licensed schools, which have predominantly Christian faculty and administration.
This is due in large measure to the faith-based persistence of James Kim, a Korean American businessman. Once accused by North Korea of being an American spy and threatened with execution in 1998, Kim today is among a handful of Western private citizens able to enter or leave North Korea freely.
In 1992, Kim founded the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in China, a few miles from the North Korea border. While not a Christian university, the majority of YUST's faculty members are Christians. The enrollment at YUST has grown from only a few hundred to nearly 2,000. The school is located in Yanji, an area of China with a large concentration of ethnic Koreans.
Kim's ultimate hope was to establish a sister university in North Korea. Three years ago, that hope became a reality when Kim, along with an international team of overseas trustees and advisers, established the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). North Koreans gave permission for the school after they visited the YUST campus.
Opening the only private university in the world's most closed country is unprecedented, and PUST is already growing rapidly. In 2010, the university had 160 students. Since then, the student body has almost doubled, with plans to increase enrollment to 2,000 undergraduate students and 600 graduate students on their $35 million, 240-acre campus.
In addition to PUST's current programs in electrical and computer engineering, international management, agriculture, and life sciences, the university has plans to open undergraduate and graduate programs in public health, law, and mechanical engineering.
Kim has put together a robust network of mostly faith-based supporters, such as Lord David Alton of Liverpool; Malcolm Gillis, former president of Rice University and current board co-chair at PUST; and Peter Agre, the 2003 Nobel Prize Laureate in chemistry and director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. The chancellor of PUST, Chan-Mo Park, is the former president of Pohang University of Science and Technology, a prestigious South Korean institution.
These sister institutions are taking advantage of an emerging trend in global higher education—the high demand for English-speaking college professors. Daryl McCarthy, president of the International Institute for Christian Studies (IICS), said, "I have sat with scores of public university officials around the world who have often begged for professors to come teach on their campuses."
McCarthy's organization has placed professors in public institutions in 23 countries. According to McCarthy, a global door of opportunity stands wide open for Christian academics to teach overseas.
No Bathtub Baptisms
Several years ago, Ray Lewis, a biology professor at Wheaton College, met Joshua Song, then serving as an adjunct professor of physics at Wheaton.
Song, also a professor at YUST, introduced Lewis to several YUST students, including one Wheaton graduate student who came to the Christian faith during her time at YUST.
The stories Song and those students shared from the YUST campus captured Lewis's imagination. By 2011, Lewis decided to spend his sabbatical at YUST along with his wife, Ia, even though the couple doesn't speak Korean or Mandarin.