Has a persecuted Christian ever had an unlikelier champion than Dennis Rodman? The eccentric former NBA star made a bizarre cameo in the drama surrounding Kenneth Bae, an American missionary accused of plotting to overthrow the North Korean government and condemned to 15 years of hard labor. Shortly after the April 2013 sentencing, Rodman—who has made several visits to the isolated nation and claims friendship with its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-un—took to Twitter with an urgent request: “I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him ‘Kim,’ to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.” (The mercurial basketballer later denied his support during a testy CNN interview.)
At the time of his capture, Bae was visiting North Korea for the 15th time in two years as a guide for his North Korean tour company. Under the Nations Tours banner, about 300 Christians had visited Rason, a special economic zone that allowed international investment. Bae hoped to expose them to the country and encourage them to begin praying for it, all while bringing investment income to the government. Bae’s arrest came after he entered the country with an external hard drive filled with files and photos documenting missionary work. Authorities seized on references to Operation Jericho, a prayer mobilization plan that invoked military metaphors, to justify charges of insurrection. Released in November 2014 after intense American lobbying, Bae was the longest-serving US prisoner in North Korean history. He spoke with CT assistant editor Morgan Lee about his imprisonment, his ongoing love for the North Korean people, and his new memoir, Not Forgotten (Thomas Nelson).1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.