The Kenneth Bae story: in his own words

Full translated transcript of Bae's 2009 sermon that details his missionary work in North Korea
May 17th, 2013

Kenneth Bae’s 2009 sermon to a Korean American church in St. Louis shares in minute detail how Bae started working in China as a missionary and, eventually North Korea, according to the transcript of the video, translated by NK News.

In Bae’s own words, he also describes “Operation Jericho,” the plan referenced by a North Korean statement following his trial.

“We are going to send 300 people to pray in Rason. Just as God made people enter Jericho and cause it to collapse without force,” Bae said. “I hope the wall between us will collapse soon through our praying and worship in the Rason area.”

“I’m now touring churches in the U.S. asking them to send 10 people per church to worship for one week in Rason. Any American citizen may join. Just a few people is not enough anymore, many people should join in this project.”

NK News first broke news of Bae’s sermon in an exclusive last week, and our copy of the video is still one of the only surviving leads to shed some light on Bae’s time in North Korea, and his motivations for being there.

Bae was arrested in December 2012 in Rason, where he was using his company “Nation Tours” as a front for missionary work in North Korea.

A full translated transcript of Bae’s sermon is below.


Bae reads the “Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews”, chapter 12, 1-2.


There are diverse beliefs in this world. We all live our lives giving unlimited trust and respect to what we believe in. When we are young, that could be our parents and, as we grow old, it could be our own children. We always trust those we believe in by trying to read their minds. When what we believe in is not a person, it could be the statues of society or materials.

In China, where I live, the belief that money is king is rampant throughout the whole country. They consider money the most important thing in their lives. With this Mammonism, people are happy to sacrifice. For example, they are willing to separate from their young child if it is good for the child. They trust money until they die and when money is gone; they consider themselves the most miserable people in the world.

People are always busy taking care of their own health. They invest almost everything into their bodies and assume their bodies will last 100 or 200 years. When they become ill, they consider themselves a person who has lost everything.

However, Christians are not that different. Even though they go to church, they do not consider Jesus a faith into which they put their whole lives. If you are Christian, you should always be ready to obey what Jesus says without any excuses. These days, however, Christians refuse to obey what Jesus said, and live their lives by themselves, not by Jesus.

There is no salvation without the cross. We obtain life through Jesus’ sacrifice. In today’s gospel, St. Paul said, as I became an inheritor of Jesus, I should realize it is not myself inside of me, but Jesus living with me from now on.

Our lives are no longer our own. We should live within the belief of Jesus. We should not follow other people’s beliefs. We should fully trust Jesus and be obedient to what he says to us.

Jesus is almighty. Jesus knows everything and does everything in our lives. If I trust and depend on him every day, his thoughts will become mine too. As we become more intelligent, our belief in Jesus becomes weak since we no longer depend on Jesus – we depend on our own judgments and experiences instead.

We should look all around our lives for the Lord’s word. We should examine if it is worth it to invest our whole lives in. Sometimes, Jesus asks us to obey. For instance, he had Noah stop his work and made an ark even though it was not rainy at all. He also had Abraham move to the Promised Land and Abraham obeyed, which makes Abraham “the father of faith.” In addition, Moses led his people when he was 80 years old.

The love of faith means we do not trust anything other than Jesus. We trust only Jesus because he gave up everything just for us. He knows everything about us, including difficulties, weakness and sins; nevertheless, he still loves us no matter what.

There is a popular song we sing very often. The lyrics say, “There is nothing Jesus can’t do.” He knows what we are doing and takes care of us. Let us look at what he did. Trust him and cast a net of faith believing Jesus’s word.

To live within Jesus Christ, first we should throw away all things that block out our faith in Jesus. We should give this all to Jesus, including spiritual and physical desire. When we give all to Jesus, he takes care of these for us. Through this, we can fully trust Jesus and live as he wants.

Before I entered the bachelor’s in public health program in Hawaii in 2005, I was having a very difficult time, wondering where to go from that point on. At that moment, the Lord spoke to me, saying, “Go to Hawaii and I will lead you.” I didn’t know what that meant but I just went, thinking I was going to a spiritual hospital. Spending three months there, I was able to learn how to listen the Lord’s word and how to connect with Jesus from the bottom, just like sick child who is recovering. Through all this, I realized that I have mission, which is going to China. Since I joined a divinity school, I have always been interested in going to China. I listened to a missionary from China, and read lots of books related to China but circumstances never let me go to China and this made me feel very desperate, and think, “I can’t do what I want.” However, Jesus said, “I just want to be with you, not ask of something from you.” Jesus wants me to go China and go through the ‘channel’ he made. At the end of June 2006, I came to China, leading a short-term missionary team for two months.

When I was in China doing mission work, I experienced many miracles and decided to stay in China. I asked the team, “Who wants stay with me?” Seven members out of 10 wanted to say with me, and we decided to continue our work in China without any compelling reasons. The only thing we could do was pray and pray. Even though there was no one who could speak Chinese we just keep praying. Through our prayer, Jesus said to us, “Make a place to pray where many youth and people can pray whenever they want.”

Therefore, the first thing we had to do was look for a house. It was quite hard to find a place where 30 or 40 people could stay. I asked the Lord, “How big of a house do you want?” He replied, “Think big” in English. I went to a realty dealer and asked to be shown the biggest house in this area. The dealer showed me the villa with eight bedrooms and four bathrooms. Right after that he showed me the villa, and I was convinced, thinking, “This is the place!” I asked about the price but it was very expensive. I asked if we could move to the place just paying first two months’ rent, but he said no. Since we could not afford the price, the next thing we did was to just walk around the building the next day and the day after that. On seventh day of walking around, the owner of the house finally called to me, saying we could move into with just the first two months’ rent, which was $3,000. However, at that moment I only had $300. But, just a while later, someone called me, saying he could contribute $3,000 as his parents have a sandwich restaurant in Canada.

That is how we started this mission five years ago.

When we were waiting to move in, one team member said to me, “I actually have $3,000 I can lend to you, please take this money and pay me back in three or four months.” I said no because I did not want to borrow the money. However, suddenly something happened to that team member: He suddenly had a heart attack at 2 a.m. He went to emergency room and was in the intensive care unit. We started praying for him until 10 p.m. that day and, after that, he got better and left the hospital on his own. Ten days later, he came to me and contributed the $3,000. Thanks to that money, I was able to get another apartment and furniture as well. Through this path, we officially started the mission from January 2007. Since then there have been more than 1,600 people from 40 different countries. Even it is risky work, there have not been any Chinese [Security Services] coming after us and Jesus has been protecting us. Many people came here, worshipped, studied the Bible, and started church school and worship school. We are learning that if we obey God, he will help us with everything.

Second, to live within our belief in Jesus, we should live with patience just like Noah and Abraham did. The hardest thing in life is waiting. It is very hard to wait until Jesus’ word comes true.

Last year, Jesus told me to find a new center for mission work, so I was looking at a building in the Dandong area. I found one building, which used to be a hotel but it has been in very shabby condition since it has been empty for three years. I wanted to find a very safe and practical place where 100 or 200 people can play the drums or guitar in worship. I asked Jesus, “Is this the place you mentioned?” He replied, “Yes.” I asked again, “Then is it time to move in?” He replied, “Yes.”

However, this time, I only had $100. The rent for the building for the whole year was $70,000 but I had to move in just one month. The only thing I could do was just keep praying. I prayed for two things. First, I prayed that the price would come down, and second, that this $100 would a miracle. I started going around the building for 40 days. I kept going around the building and praying every day. Suddenly, the owner changed his mind and called me, saying I could just pay $47,000. I was able to pay $47,000 and started construction inside the building. Through this path, we have been using the building since September. Since then, almost 500-600 people have visited here. Many people asked me, “How are you going to pay the rent?” At that time, the rent was $4,000 and there was a $2,500 electricity fee. I didn’t have anyone to raise the donations for us or be a donor, but I didn’t give up. I just keep praying. Jesus made me a bridge to connect this place to North Korea. I almost gave up but I just trusted Jesus because he said so. After going through all this, about 40 people are now doing mission work and about 80 people are living here.

Since it’s technically a hotel, we had to register the building as hotel. The missionaries are “hotel employees,” the people from outside are “guests,” and students are “workers in training.”

The third secret for living in faith is looking for just Jesus. We have to be patient. If we trust him, he will do anything you ask. Sometimes, people tell me I take on more work than I can handle even though I do not have anything. When I hear that sort of thing from those close to me, I become discouraged. Even this winter, I needed $20,000 for rent. People keep suggesting that I move to a small place so that we don’t feel so much pressure. However, I cannot do that. If Jesus is our master, it is best to obey him. Being able to pray and worship in the middle of this city in China is the miracle itself. In particular, Dandong is very close to North Korea, and there is strong possibility of rumors circulating and the situation becoming dangerous, but our Lord is protecting us.

For the last four years, I knew that Jesus wanted me to be a ‘channel’ to the North. For example, when I was looking at North Korea from the hotel located near Amnok river, Jesus woke me up around 4:30 a.m. There was a red sunrise. He said, “There will be a sun rising. Get ready.” After that I started developing the base in Dandong.

I went to North Korea for missionary work and I wondered, if more people could come and go freely, will the wall fall down more quickly? Wouldn’t it be good if prayers and worshipers could live and stay in that place? So I asked: “Can foreigners come as tourists?” They said that the door had been open in Rajin and Sonbong [Rason] since last year.” I asked again, “If Chinese people from a cultural exchange company want to come North Korea, can I bring them here too?” He said yes.

I came back to China and looked for a way to go to North Korea directly as a tour business. I therefore started a “Love Choson [North Korea] Tour” about loving people, loving culture, and loving nature. We did this, and saw where and how North Koreans live their lives. I asked if I can go to local markets, schools, workplaces, mountains, or beaches, and they permitted us to do that. I wanted to make a tour not by North Koreans, but by us through what we actually wanted to see. Through this path, I was able to take Chinese to North Korea directly, not through a Chinese tour company, and this year I’m working at taking several short term missionary teams into North Korea.

When the tour team came to one of the mountains, the team consisted of diverse ages from a 6 month old baby to an elderly person in their 60s. The team naturally divided into three small teams and each of the three teams climbed the mountain and worshipped separately. One time, we went to the beach and prayed and worshipped freely in our swimsuits for three-to-four hours in the beach area.

When we passed through customs in North Korea, the first question North Koreans asked us is, “Did you bring a Bible?” The Bible is the most terrifying thing for North Korea. The next question is, “Do you have an iPod or an MP3 player?” Of course we did. Carrying a Bible in one hand and an MP3 player in the other, we all looked like “warriors for Christ.”

One night, I suggested that the team go to karaoke for foreigners to “worship,” but there was a blackout so we had to go out and just sit at the beach. There were also around 30 North Koreans who came out because of the blackout. We just worshipped, singing songs about Jesus and playing the guitar like we were playing around. There was one team member from Ghana, so I asked him to pray for us in his language. He came to the front and started repeating, “God is great” for 10 minutes in his language. I was disconcerted but the North Koreans started following this. At the end of the worship, he said, “Amen” and then all of the North Koreans were surprised and his words spread out quickly.

In North Korea, where Kim Il Sung is considered the greatest, there is only idol worship, not Jesus.

One time, there was heavy rainy so we could not follow our schedule. We had a chance to visit a school in North Korea. We joined the university school class. We visited a middle and high school and taught a 90-minute English class. Thanks to this chance, now we are going to start an English camp starting next year.

When I went to North Korea, it was very painful to watch even elderly people laboring in workplaces inhaling so much dust. Watching this, I had a fit of anger, thinking government officials are living very comfortably but the people continue suffering. I asked Jesus and he said, “I will open roads and open eyes. I will make these people happy.”

We have a new project called “Operation Jericho.” We are going to send 300 people to pray in Rason. Just as God made people enter Jericho and collapse it without force, I hope the wall between us will collapse soon, through just our praying and worship in the Rason area, where 200,000 people live. I’m now touring churches in the U.S. asking them to send 10 people per church to worship for one week in Rason. Any American citizen may join. Just a few people is not enough anymore, many people should join in this project.

Let me show you a video. This is when we went to the elementary school in North Korea. We bought a soccer ball at a local market and played with children for a half-hour. This is when we sang a birthday song for our North Korean guide on his 27th birthday. We prepared a lot of food as well.

What North Koreans really need is our attention and love. Jesus asked us to give our attention and love to them. When I visited schools in North Korea, there were so many walls where “Bad Americans” is written. However, when they talked with us for just one hour, I was able to feel that all the bad things about America they have learned were melting inside of them. It is very important that we pay attention to them. For example, when one missionary from India went to one village in another country for 10 years but couldn’t proselytize to any single person in the village because of the language barrier. After that, he came back to his country and another missionary was sent to that village, and he was able to learn the local language in just three years and gave a speech to those gathered. He asked them, “So, do you want to believe Jesus now?” Everyone pointed at him. The missionary wasn’t sure they understood what he said, and so spoke again and asked, “Do you still want to believe Jesus?” Again, everyone pointed at him. Since the missionary was confused, the head of the village came to him and said, “Jesus has lived with us these past 10 years”

We are not just tourists. We came here because we love North Koreans. It’s our responsibility to take care of them. The biggest tragedy in South Korea these days is that nobody wants unification now. They consider North Koreans to be one of their neighbors, not siblings. Samaritans. We don’t have any option but to love North Koreans. To finish this mission, many missionaries are working to become a bridge for them. So, what do you do now? Do you still blame your situation? Just say, “Jesus, I will follow you.” Without any belief, you can’t please Jesus. Jesus blesses the person who looks for him. Be patient and obey what he tells us. Let us pray.


Dear Lord, thank you for putting me here to share the Lord’s work today. From now on, no matter what we do, make everything we do an evidence of the Lord. Make us to not just look at our surroundings and even if we live for just one day, please make us live for your glory. Make us a channel for the survival of the many people around me …


Translation by Yeseul Loaiza in Los Angeles

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About the Author

James Pearson

James Pearson (@pearswick) was the NK News Seoul Correspondent.