Yes, you read that right.
The New York Times reports this morning that classes began yesterday at a new university in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The school, as the NYT describes, is “a science university founded by American evangelical scholars.” How did this come about?
The driving force behind the school was Kim Chin-kyung, an American born in Seoul who founded a university in China in 1992. He made periodic trips from China into North Korea and in 1998 was arrested at his hotel in the capital and thrown into prison, accused of being an agent for the C.I.A.
The relentless interrogations went on for six weeks and almost broke him. “I was ready to die,” he said in a 2001 interview, even writing out a will and bequeathing his organs for transplants and medical study in Pyongyang.
He was finally released, he said, after convincing the authorities that “I was not the kind of person who would spy on them.”
In November 2000, a man appeared in his university office in China — oddly, the same man who had ordered his arrest for espionage in Pyongyang in 1998. But this time he had a proposal from the North Korean government: could he duplicate his Chinese technical university in Pyongyang?
“Doing business with North Korea is not for the faint of heart,” Mr. Kim said on the school’s Web site, “but the effort is ennobling and necessary.”
The school’s website (available in English here) includes these words from Dr. Kim, the founding president and co-chairman of the university:
While the skills to be taught are technical in nature, the spirit underlying this historic venture is unabashedly Christian. A century ago, the northern half of the Korean peninsula was steeped in Christian and modern influences, so much so that Pyongyang, its center, was known throughout Western Christendom as “the Jerusalem of the East.” God in his Providence has granted us a second opportunity to teach modern subjects to new generations of young North Koreans to encourage them to become, once again, eager to learn and borrow from the outside world.
Dr. Kim goes on, “I invite you to join me in this truly historic venture with your prayers and support.” Many of us have been praying that the Lord would open doors to the Hermit Kingdom. Perhaps this is part of his answer. Upon receiving such encouraging news, let us pray even more earnestly for the dear people of North Korea.