Eugene Cho

what really happened with laura ling, euna lee, and north korea?

North Korea border

These are crazy times but I have a feeling that those words could have been said at every point in human history.  These are crazy times because, in my opinion, it reflects that reality that “something just isn’t right with the world.” But nevertheless, we keep working and moving forward towards restoration and reconciliation. I just hope folks comes to realize that God is the author of Shalom and thus, we need to return to Him for guidance in this journey.

I’ve been mulling the situation in numerous part of the world but also keeping tabs with American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.  I have friends, even as I write this, that cross the border of North Korea and China on a weekly if not daily basis.  When the whole news broke, I was absolutely confused:

How do journalists accidentally cross over to North Korea?

You don’t.

My suspicion all along has been foul play – somehow, somewhere, and some folks.

The 12 year sentence?

Didn’t really surprise me – but it still saddened me.

So what will happen?

For now, it’s all a guessing game but one thing I am convinced of is that the blame does NOT fall on Laura and Euna.  We need to keep them in our thoughts & prayers; Continue to put pressure on our government and its officials to maintain dialgoue and pressure on North Korea. I am also convinced that they will return one day. And while it was not what they intended or planned, the words they will write and share will be more impactful than they can imagine. It will give the world a deeper glimpse of the darkness in North Korea and the change/revolution that needs to happen.  For now, I want to encourage you to check out Nicholas Kristof’s article (below) about Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and North Korea. I agree with much of his assessment.

My ancestors are from North Korea.  My father and mother was born in North Korea. Some of you have read my burden and heart for North Korea.  Couple years ago, my parents trekked back to this part of the China and North Korea border in hopes of seeing their homeland – even from across the border.  He was taking some pictures and captured the one above before he was “asked” to stop taking pictures.

Here’s the full article by Kristof. Read it:

Now that my colleague David Rohde has escaped from his Taliban kidnappers, the American journalists who remain imprisoned for their work are Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are the two journalists for Current TV who were arrested on March 17 for crossing illegally from China into North Korea at the Tumen River.

The details of the arrests remain unclear; they have “confessed,” but that is meaningless — who wouldn’t in such circumstances? There have been some suggestions that they wandered accidentally across the border, but that’s not easy to do. I’ve reported three times in that same area along the Tumen, interviewing North Koreans on the Chinese side of the border, and it’s always clear where the border is. That said, people often do cross over deliberately, just inside the border, and there are usually no consequences at all. In 1997, a Times correspondent based in China, Seth Faison, stepped across stones in the Yalu River (a different part of the border with China) to reach a North Korean island. He wrote:

”Have any cigarettes?” asked the head of North Korea’s five-man border guard on Lee Island, a finger of land in the Yalu River dividing North Korea from China. The officer, who gave his name as Park, lay idly on a shady patch of sand a few dozen yards from the border. He did not get up to greet a pair of visitors who stepped on stones to cross a narrow bend in the river from China, and allowed them onto the island because they accompanied a Chinese trader who had given him a pack of Chinese cigarettes the day before, worth 12 cents.
Another possibility, which I incline to, is that Laura and Euna may have been sold to North Korea by a local guide. If the guide said that it was safe to cross, or that they were still on Chinese territory, they would have believed him. Moreover, by some accounts they were working on a story about human trafficking — there’s a good deal of trafficking of North Korean women and girls into China, into prostitution and to be wives of peasants — and the traffickers could well have tricked them in exchange for a reward from North Korea. A couple of years ago, I set up an interview with a trafficker in that border area, but then backed out when he demanded money; the traffickers may realize that the people to demand money from aren’t the journalists but the North Korean officials. And at a time of crisis, when it is undergoing a leadership transition and a confrontation with the West, North Korea would probably pay well for a few extra bargaining chips in the form of American journalists.

Laura and Euna were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp. The conditions in those camps are unbelievably wretched, according to survivors and guards who have escaped (the book “Aquariums of Pyongyang” offers an window into them). But since Laura and Euna will eventually be released, the authorities will treat them more gingerly; perhaps they will be kept in a guest house. North Korea would lose face if they died or turned out to be starving, and that will help them immeasurably. In both my visits inside North Korea, the government has worked so hard to keep foreigners from seeing the real North Korea that I just can’t believe that it would allow Euna and Laura to see anything real even in the context of their punishment.

My hunch is that North Korea will use them for a time as a propaganda victory and then release them to a high-ranking visitor — Al Gore, Bill Richardson or someone else. Gore invested in Current TV, and Richardson has gone to North Korea before to extricate Americans and has a decent relationship with officials there. The problem is that a North Korean freighter is now steaming on the high seas, apparently to Burma, and reputedly carrying weapons. The U.S. should stop it and search it or turn it back, since Burma obviously won’t, but that could easily lead to bullets flying — either at sea or in an incident at the DMZ, or both. If there is such an incident, North Korea may be less likely to release Laura and Euna for the time being.

Then there’s the transition. In the past, North Korean provocations have mostly been about us — they’ve been intended to get our attention, in hopes of working out some kind of a deal. But this time, the provocations may be more about internal North Korean power dynamics, meant to facilitate the rise of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, as the chosen heir. If this is all related to internal politics, then there’s not much we can do. Ambassador Steve Bosworth, the administration’s envoy for North Korea, reportedly has been blocked by North Korea from visiting; that’s a bad sign that this is all about them, not us.

Incidentally, for those who want to learn more about how North Korea ticks, there have been many good books lately. Perhaps the best is Bradley Martin’s exhaustive “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader.” And the Inspector O novels, set in Pyongyang and written by an American intelligence expert on North Korea (who uses the pseudonym James Church), beautifully capture the attitudes of the North Korean officials I’ve met.

And for Laura and Euna, if by some chance this blog post reaches you, courage! We are with you in spirit, and some day this will end. Then you’ll back with your loved ones, celebrating, like David Rohde. You will come home!

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8 Responses

  1. Sue says:

    Eugene,
    Thanks for sharing this and Nic’s article. I agree that they will return but we have to put the pressure on to have it be sooner than later.

  2. charlestlee says:

    Thanks for sharing Eugene. There’s no doubt that something unusual happened with Ling-Lee. I too have friends who have worked in that area and I highly doubt that they just happened to be on the other side.

    In any case, I hope for a quick return home for those two journalists. Regardless of fault, it’s too bad that they are being used as pawns.

  3. Thanks for posting on this and helping us stay informed.

    And I know this is sort of a strange reaction, but as I watch the news surrounding this, my biggest question involves the parenting angle. Where does the line get drawn when it comes to courting danger and being responsible to one’s family? From what I’ve heard, the 4 year old is still being told that “mommy’s at work.” I know that the question is way bigger than this incident, but it brought it to mind…

  4. bl78 says:

    I havent seen it but heard on CNN or FOX that one of the people that were with Laura and Euna had a video camera which captured a footage of them crossing the border.

  5. Bo says:

    I hope Kristof is right. Certainly they ought to be freed immediately and it is unfortunate they are being used as political pawns. As to what happened – I’m not making any judgments yet. Laura Ling’s sister, Lisa Ling, did cross over into N. Korea in June 2006 with hidden cameras and filmed a show for National Geographic. I’m wondering if someone tipped off the N Koreans and they grabbed them whether in N. Korea or China in retaliation.

  6. Samantha says:

    How sad? Iran and kidnapped journalists…

    So few comments as all our attention goes to Jon & Kate (Plus Hate).

  7. Thanks for reporting on this very important issue, and adding to my understanding of it. It completely makes sense that NK would want to postulate in light of a new leader. Ling and Lee were shedding light on a shameful situation. Let’s all pray for and work towards their release.

  8. jeanne wall says:

    these people are innocent and should be sent home to their families. the u s is not doing their job .do you know if it was any of the bosses family they would have been home already. it is a shame that our country cares nothing about our people. they are thinking about nobody but themselves. i am ashamed to say i live in the u.s. God help you stupid goverment aides. may God hurt you for this. jeanne wall

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One Day’s Wages

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As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer.

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