Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Imprisoned Korean-American missionary to return from China

A Korean-American missionary, imprisoned in China on charges of trying to smuggle North Korean refugees into South Korea, has been sentenced to deportation, his congregation has been told.The Rev. Phillip Jun Buck, 68, whose case was widely cited by activists concerned with religious freedom in North Korea, should be back home shortly.

"He's OK," said Senior Pastor Chang Cheh, adding that he had spoken by telephone with his fellow seminarian and colleague of nearly 40 years.

Buck was trying to help refugees who fled to northeast China from hunger and repression in North Korea when he was arrested in May 2005 and incarcerated in Yanji. He was convicted in December of trying to smuggle North Korean refugees though China into South Korea. Facing as much as 20 years in prison, he was instead deported and banned from returning to China.

Buck fled his home and family in North Korea as a child, never forgot his roots and wanted to improve the lot of his homeland, said his youngest daughter, Grace Yoon, 30, who translates Korean sermons into English at the church.

He built several shelters in China, and ran a noodle factory in North Korea for a year, starting in 1997, feeding thousands of hungry people until government officials became suspicious and forced him to leave in 1998, Yoon said.It was after that eviction that he decided to take his efforts to China, she said."He's very passionate about helping North Korean refugees," she said. "He would just give everything for them."

[The Daily News of Longview, Washington]

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