Pastor Buck was born in North Korea in 1941 and fled with his brothers to the South during the Korean War. He emigrated to the U.S. in the '80s, becoming a citizen in 1992. When famine hit North Korea in the late '90s, and millions died, he raised relief funds in Korean churches in the U.S.
"I helped send 150 tons of flour and rice to the North," he says, "and 70 tons of fertilizer . . . This was a time when government rations had stopped and people were living off grass."
But on visits to the North, he soon realized that the government was stealing the food intended for starving citizens. "I changed my mind" about the efficacy of aid, he says, and in 1998 he joined the effort to help people escape. "If you see someone who is drowning in the river, wouldn't you reach out and help that person?" he asks. "That's what was in my heart."
Pastor Buck is nothing if not determined. In 2002, while in a Southeast Asian country with a group of refugees he had guided there, his apartment in Yanji city, in northeast China, was raided. Nineteen refugees were captured and a copy of his passport was confiscated. With his identity now compromised, Mr. Buck returned to the U.S. and underwent legal proceedings to change his name. John Yoon, the name he was born with, was dead; Phillip Buck was born.
The new Pastor Buck returned to China, where, on May 25, 2005, he was arrested and eventually convicted of the crime of helping illegal immigrants. Thanks to the intervention of the U.S. government, he was deported before he could be sentenced.
[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]
Footnote fromTim Peters of Helping Hands Korea – In our continued partnership with Phillip Buck, we were able to provide the funds for three of the North Korean refugees who were caught when Phillip was caught, who all three have now been transferred at last to a safe haven.