Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea

Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea


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Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea by Kenneth Bae

For the first time, Kenneth Bae tells the full story surrounding his arrest and imprisonment in North Korea.

Not Forgotten is a modern story of intrigue, suspense, and heart. Driven by his passion to help the people of North Korea, Bae moves to neighboring China to lead guided tours into the secretive nation. Six years later, after eighteen successful excursions in and out of the country, Ken is suddenly stopped at the border: he inadvertently brought his hard drive, that reveals the true nature of his visits, to customs. He is arrested, brought to Pyongyang for further questioning, and sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor. His crime? Attempting to overthrow the North Korean government. He may never see his family again.

Back in America, family and friends rally support by establishing a website and creating a petition for Ken’s release. Soon, major media outlets decry Ken’s unjust imprisonment, bringing needed attention that culminates in President Obama’s call for prayer on behalf of Ken at the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast. Meanwhile, Ken grapples with his new, solitary reality as a captive of one of the world’s most brutal governments.

From the first harrowing moments of his ordeal to his release—and even today—Ken never wavers in his love for the North Korean people, even his captors. Not Forgotten is both a compelling narrative of one man’s dedication to serving the less fortunate and a modern testament of a missionary forced to rely solely on the God who sent him into dangerous territory. Readers will marvel at the rare, firsthand tour of life inside the most shrouded country on the planet, meeting its people, experiencing their daily lives, taking in the landscape, and encountering the tyranny of a totalitarian regime. With its combined spiritual and secular appeal, this never-before-told story is sure to captivate and inspire readers of all ages.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718079635
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 413,516
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Kenneth Bae was born in Seoul, Korea on August 1, 1968. His family immigrated to the United States in 1985. Kenneth went to high school in California and attended the University of Oregon and Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He held multiple jobs in sales and marketing until he moved to China in 2006. After years of managing his cultural-exchange business and missionary work, he transitioned into travel and tourism industry in 2010 planning trips for the DPRK (North Korea). Kenneth had a passion to introduce westerners to the untainted beauty of the landscape and people of North Korea and was excited to contribute to their economic development. He is a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, and has been working with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) since 2005. Kenneth is a husband and a father of three children, ages eighteen to twenty-five.

Mark Tabb has authored or coauthored more than thirty books, including the number one New York Times bestseller, Mistaken Identity.

Read an Excerpt

Not Forgotten

The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea

By Kenneth Bae, Mark Tabb

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2016 Kenneth Bae
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-7964-2


Welcome to Villa Three

"But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."

— Matthew 10:19–20

THE MOMENT THE car pulled into the parking lot I knew I was in trouble.

"Are you Mr. Bae?" asked a fiftysomething man who had just stepped out of the black compact sedan that now blocked my path.

From his black suit, white shirt, and black tie, I immediately knew he was a government agent. Like nearly everyone I had met in North Korea, he was very thin. Another, younger man approached me from the other side. He looked to be maybe thirty. Neither one smiled or showed any sign of emotion. They clearly were on a mission.

"I said, are you Mr. Bae?" the first man repeated, even though I could tell he knew the answer.

I swallowed hard. "Yes," I said with a smile, trying to act relaxed, while inside I wanted to panic.

Even before the car pulled into the hotel parking lot, I knew something like this was going to happen. I wasn't sure if it would happen today or tomorrow or the next day, but I was certain that before my scheduled four-day visit was over, government agents would come for me. The only question was when.

"You need to come with us," the man said. His tone of voice told me that if I knew what was good for me, I would do as I was told.

Even so, I hesitated. It felt like a scene from a movie: the black sedan, the agents in dark suits. I'd seen this movie before, and I knew things never turned out too well for the man forced into the backseat of the car.

Before I could say or do anything, the younger man grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the sedan. "Get in now," he growled.

Every outside visitor is accompanied by a government minder, a low-level official whose job is to monitor the visitor's activities and report back to Pyongyang. My minder, who was walking across the parking lot with me, instinctively took a step back as if he didn't know me. I could tell he wished he had never been assigned to my tour group.

"Who are you? Are you part of his tour company?" the younger agent barked at him.

"No," the minder replied. "I am the —"

The first agent cut him off. "Why were the two of you walking around out here?" He didn't have to say it, but I could tell the agent was accusing the minder of breaking some rule. Without waiting for the minder to answer, the agent snapped, "Come with us." Then, as if the minder had any questions about whom the agent was talking to, the agent pointed at him and repeated, "You. Come."

All the color drained from the minder's face. He walked over to the car and climbed in the front seat. His expression told me he was afraid for his life.

The younger agent shoved me into the backseat and climbed in beside me. The older agent got in on the opposite side. Both men's shoulders squeezed up against me as the three of us struggled to fit. The moment the doors closed, the driver sped off.

I watched the passing landscape out the window. Since this was my fifteenth trip to the city of Rason, North Korea, in less than two years, I knew the place well. Rason is a special economic zone where outside entities can establish businesses. It is the most open city in the country and a place where tourists are allowed, albeit on a limited basis. Through my company, Nations Tours, I had brought three hundred visitors into the country to marvel at its beautiful landscape and to experience its culture while embracing the people of North Korea.

Ten minutes later we passed through the city center without stopping and headed north toward the countryside. I was surprised. I was certain they would take me to some sort of police station for questioning.

No one had yet said a word. The two agents sat perfectly still, all business. The minder in the front seat had not moved either. He had not even glanced over at the driver or looked around to see where we were going. I don't think he wanted to know.

As the car kept going north, I finally broke the silence. "Are we going to the border?" I asked. To me, the question made perfect sense. This whole mess had started eight hours earlier at the border crossing.

"Be quiet and don't say anything," the older agent barked at me.

I sat back in the seat and did as I was told. The car made a right turn and started heading east, toward the coast. I had been this way several times. Just off the coast sits Bipa Island, which is a popular tourist spot. It is the only place in all of Korea where you can see a colony of sea lions.

I don't know why I thought about sea lions at that moment. I knew I was in trouble. I just didn't realize how serious it was.

The road toward the coast went up over a mountain. The driver then turned into the parking lot of the Bipa Hotel, which is tucked into the mountainside near the ocean. A few months earlier I had stayed at this very hotel with one of my tour groups. The hotel, which is about twenty-five miles from the Chinese and Russian borders and six miles from downtown Rason, is made up of three separate villas. Villa One is basically a shrine. The Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, stayed there twice back in the early 1970s. His room is now eternally preserved as a historical landmark. For an extra hundred dollars a night, you can stay in that very room and sleep in the same bed where the Great Leader once slept.

The tour group had not wanted to pay extra to stay in his room. Instead, we stayed in Villa Two, which had been recently renovated by a Chinese investor. Some of the rooms are now as nice as any three-star hotel anywhere in Asia, complete with flat-screen televisions and even personal dry saunas in the bathrooms.

Our car drove past the Great Leader's villa and Villa Two and pulled up to Villa Three, which was surrounded by forest. The car stopped, but I was ordered to stay where I was while the older agent went inside. A few minutes later two men dressed in plain Mao suits with mandarin collars came out and escorted me into the building.

The minder remained in the car. I never saw him again.

"Take off your shoes," one of the men in Mao suits said as we stepped into the entryway of the villa. I did as I was told. The man grabbed my shoes and disappeared with them.

"Come with me," the other man said. He led me down a hallway and into a two-bedroom suite. A luxury hotel this was not. He led me through the spartan living room and the first bedroom and into a second room at the end of a hall. It looked more like a dorm room than a hotel. The three beds, the desk, and the two lounge chairs looked as though they hadn't been replaced since the Great Leader's visit to Villa One. The finished concrete floor did not have a rug or carpet or even tile. A single window looked out on the forest, but most of the window was covered with plastic, preventing me from looking out. A handful of officials were in the suite, with others just outside in the hallway.

"Take off your pants," an official ordered.

I hesitated. The room felt like a walk-in freezer. Temperatures in early November in this part of North Korea drop well below freezing, and it seemed the heat had not yet been turned on. I had on a thin pair of long johns under my trousers, but it was not nearly enough to keep me warm.

"Take off your pants," he repeated.

I did not argue. I slipped off my pants and stood in the middle of the room, shivering. The only possible reason for taking them was to keep me from trying to escape, as if that were even possible. If I could somehow manage to get out of the building unnoticed, I could not go outside and blend in. I was much heavier than the average North Korean man. During my seventeen previous trips inside the country, I learned you could tell how high up in the Labor Party one was by his build. The very few with real influence and power were heavy; everyone else looked to be on the edge of malnutrition. No one was ever going to mistake me for a party official in spite of my weight.

The man who took my shoes returned to the room. He grabbed my pants and left again.

The other man wearing a Mao suit looked me over and said, "Sit in that chair and wait for instructions."

I sat down on a cold, wooden chair across from a desk. A chill crawled up my spine. I'm not sure if it was the cold or fear. I tried to keep from shivering, but sitting on a cold chair in a walk-in freezer without my pants or shoes finally got the best of me.

A few minutes later the older agent who brought me to the villa in the car walked in. He gave some instructions to the other men in the room. I was too nervous to pay much attention to what he said, but everyone else did. They immediately did what he told them to do. Their obedience told me he was the most senior official in the facility.

The senior agent took a seat directly across from me. He stared at me as if I should have known what he was about to say. Finally, he spoke.

"You have carried some very disruptive materials into our great nation, materials filled with lies about our Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, and how he cares for us." He paused. "You are going to be our guest here until you explain why you, someone who has been welcomed into our great nation many times, would bring in such materials and what you planned to do with them."

My heart sank. They've gone through it already, I thought.

"It" was an external hard drive I had inadvertently carried into North Korea with me. I had it only because I had purchased a new laptop and needed to transfer all my files from the external drive to the new machine.

The trip from my base of operations in Dandong, China, to the border crossing just north of Rason takes twenty-three hours, twenty-one of which are spent on a train from Dandong to Yanji. I planned on transferring everything during the train ride and leaving both my computer and the hard drive in a hotel safe on the Chinese side of the border. Unfortunately, I never got around to transferring the files, and I completely forgot about the hard drive until I opened my briefcase for customs at the border. By then it was too late.

When the customs agents opened the files on the hard drive, they would have found detailed descriptions of six years of mission work in China, along with two years of work in North Korea. All the files were English, which meant they did not yet know what they had. If English files were the only things on the hard drive, I might have been able to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, I also had more than eight thousand photos and video clips, including photos of other missionaries working in China and in North Korea. The videos included footage from Inside North Korea, a 2009 National Geographic Channel documentary that showed starving North Korean children digging in the dirt in search of something to eat.

I knew I could never give an explanation that would satisfy this man, or anyone else in this country, as to why I had the hard drive with me. If I told him the truth — if I said to him, "This is all just a big misunderstanding. I never intended to bring anything disruptive or controversial into North Korea. I threw that hard drive into my briefcase right before I left home and forgot all about it until I found it when I came through customs. There's no sinister plan. Just an honest mistake" — he would not believe me.

"Well," the senior agent said, "can you explain why you brought these materials into our great nation?"

Rather than offer up any excuses, I simply said, "No."

"We will have someone bring your suitcase over from the other hotel," he said in a way that made it sound as though I were now a guest in this villa rather than a prisoner. "Your dinner will be brought in soon," he added and then stood and left.

About fifteen minutes later a guard brought in a bowl of food. He placed it before me and walked out. I stared down at a little glob of rice with a few limp vegetables on top, along with a tiny bit of fried fish that looked more like bait than dinner. Altogether I had maybe six or seven spoonfuls of food.

I didn't feel much like eating, but I tried to force it down. I heard the guards eating their meals in the other room. I assumed they had the same portions as me. When they were still eating twenty minutes later, I realized hunger was one of the tools they planned to use to get information out of me.

All through dinner, and for about half an hour after, I sat in the same wooden chair I had been ordered into when I had first come into the room. The wood was not as cold, but my body ached from sitting in one place for so long.

Suddenly a guard came into the room and ordered me to stand up.

I stood.

In walked a very heavy, middle-aged man who looked like a crime boss from The Sopranos. As he walked in, the others in the room stepped back and called him bujang, which means "director" in Korean. The look on his face told me he was not happy to be out at this hour. Or maybe that was his normal look. Either way, he was the meanest-looking man I had ever encountered in Korea. And the heaviest.

The bujang took a seat on one of the lounge chairs and motioned for me to sit down. The senior agent came back into the room and stood off to one side. The bujang settled into the chair and pulled out a cigarette. "Do you smoke?" he asked as he held the pack toward me so I could grab one if I liked.

"No, but thank you for offering," I said.

The bujang gave me a dismissive look. He lit his cigarette, drew in deeply, and blew the smoke out in my direction. He acted as if he were about to make me an offer I couldn't refuse.

"We're going to conduct an investigation," he informed me. "You brought in a hard drive filled with files, photos, videos. We want to know who is behind this, who gave this to you to bring into our great nation. And we want to know why you would do this, what your purpose is behind this act."

I nodded to show I understood. I didn't say a word.

"My people are professionals. They are very good at extracting the information we want. Eventually they will learn all your secrets, so the sooner you tell the truth, the better off it will be for you." He paused to let his words sink in. He almost seemed to be enjoying himself.

He took another drag on his cigarette. "Now, we aren't going to use force," he said in a tone that made it clear that they could easily change their minds. "No. That's too childish. And besides," he said with a little smile, "we don't need such barbaric methods to find out what we need to know. You will cooperate. I can assure you of that. The sooner you do, the better for all of us." He let the words hang in the air.

I nodded again.

The bujang motioned toward the door. A younger and much smaller man walked in. At maybe 130 pounds, he was literally half the size of the bujang. A dark suit hung on his five-foot-four frame. His glasses gave him a much less threatening look than that of the man who was clearly his boss. The younger man stepped over to a chair near the bujang and sat down in a very stiff, formal way, like a boy who is afraid of his father.

"This will be your investigator," the bujang said. "You need to cooperate with him." The investigator nodded toward the bujang to acknowledge what he had just said.

"Do we start now?" I asked.

"No," the bujang said, "it is too late to get started tonight. We will let you get your rest. Our investigation will begin first thing in the morning." He stood. The investigator immediately jumped to his feet. The guard motioned for me to stand as well, which I did.

"Until then," the bujang continued, "this will be your room. Take the bed there next to the window. Your guards will take the other two beds. The investigation team will be in the next room." With that, the bujang left the room. The investigator and the senior agent followed close behind.


Excerpted from Not Forgotten by Kenneth Bae, Mark Tabb. Copyright © 2016 Kenneth Bae. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Bill Richardson xi

Note to the Reader xv

Prologue xvii

Chapter 1 Welcome to Villa Three 1

Chapter 2 The Interrogations Begin 11

Chapter 3 Standing at His Feet 23

Chapter 4 Coming Clean 31

Chapter 5 The Power of Prayer 39

Chapter 6 Operation Jericho 49

Chapter 7 Confession 57

Chapter 8 On to Pyongyang 67

Chapter 9 Far from Home 81

Chapter 10 First Contact 93

Chapter 11 Out for Blood 103

Chapter 12 Guilty as Charged 113

Chapter 13 103 127

Chapter 14 Down on the Farm 137

Chapter 15 The Whole World Now Knows 149

Chapter 16 Going Home? 161

Chapter 17 I Am a Missionary 169

Chapter 18 A Visit from Home 179

Chapter 19 More Disappointment 187

Chapter 20 Missionary in Chains 197

Chapter 21 Is That What Is Going to Happen to Me? 207

Chapter 22 Not Alone 219

Chapter 23 I Will Bring You Home 227

Epilogue 237

Acknowledgments 241

Notes 245

About the Authors 247

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Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What the enemy intended for evil God used for good. I found myself cheering for him to not fall and praying for all those who have not heard.
RetiredMarilyn More than 1 year ago
This story is an amazing piece about a true hero from the times we live in. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves inspirational biography as well as modern historical information.