Kenneth Bae, the Korean-American missionary who served a 2-year prison sentence after the North Korean government claimed he was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime, has said that he never viewed himself as a prisoner, but rather "God's ambassador."
In Washington this week, Bae, 47, met with members of Congress who worked for his release, and talked about his new book: "Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea."
Bae, who has three children, had led tour groups into North Korea to secretly pray and worship when a hard drive that authorities found in his briefcase exposed his missionary activity.
According to the Washington Times, the pastor eventually confessed that one of the documents on his hard drive was a plan for what he described as "Operation Jericho" - an effort to bring tourists into North Korea to pray and spread the love of God.
"I wanted people to walk the land and just pray that someday the people in North Korea would be able to know God just like in the rest of the world and be able to worship God," he said.
After realizing that he faced a lengthy detention, Bae concluded that God had placed him there to share his Christian faith with North Korean guards.
"I had to make a choice," he said, adding that he began praying deeply as he debated over whether to fight his incarceration or somehow accept it.
He finally determined that it was "God's will" that had put him there. "After that moment," he said, "my perspective of life in prison changed because I was no longer there as a prisoner, but I was there as God's ambassador - somebody who was sent from God to do God's work."
He recalled one particularly "painful" conversation he had with a North Korean prison guard, who, despite having a college degree, had never heard the name of Jesus.
The talk "really haunted me," he said. "Where does Jesus live? In China or North Korea? That was his sincere question that he asked me," the pastor revealed.
In November 2014, the U.S. State Department announced it had secured the release of Bae and another American held by North Korea, Matthew Todd Miller. While thankful for his release, Bae has urged the world not to forget the ordinary people who are suffering in North Korea.
"We need to differentiate between the government and the people. The people are suffering without knowing what is coming next for them," he said. "We as people outside need to continue to stand up for them and reach out to them and remember them through prayer support and any other blessing we can give.
He added, "My hope in writing this book is that people will see what life is like for people there and also have more compassion for the people of North Korea."
In an earlier interview with CNN, Bae revealed that while in prison, he never doubted God's faithfulness.
"One thing I want people to take away from reading the book is God's faithfulness," Bae said. "After I was released, I was reminded that God has not forgotten the people of North Korea."
For the 13th consecutive year, North Korea has ranked No. 1 on Open Doors USA's World Watch List of the 50 countries where persecution is most extreme.
Currently, Pyongyang has two other Americans in custody: University of Virginia student Otto F. Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March for trying to steal a political banner with a government slogan on it, and Kim Dong Chul, who was charged with espionage and subversion.
Bae said his "heart goes out to them and their families," and that they should not give up hope that the U.S. government is working to secure their release.