Aijalon Mahli Gomes, Robert Park and Motivation

A current primary topic for me concerns motivation–how do I get myself to do that which I desire? This morning, I was proceeding along that trail and had arrived at a point where I was considering the importance of the strength of the desire. I recalled the maxim, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That which we want badly enough will come to pass. I might want to get out of bed earlier each day, but have a hard time doing it. Set the house on fire, however, and you can get me on my feet at any hour.

It was then that I saw a news flash about an American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who is being tried in North Korea for illegal entry. “Who is he,” I wondered, “and what in the world is he doing trying to infiltrate North Korea?” I can’t answer that for certain, but a little bit of research gave me a few big clues. “Aijalon” comes from the Biblical book of Joshua. It is the place where Joshua defeated five kings–and where the Creator even stopped the progress of the sun and moon to help him. “Mahli” is a Biblical name, as well–a son of the house of Levi.

The next clue
was the clincher. It is from a post left on a Korean website last August. It is a question about hair removal by someone who signs the post like this: “Love and God Bless, Aijalon G.” I don’t know about where you are from, but my experience is that “God Bless” is a buzz phrase for Christianity. Putting those, albeit slim threads, of information together, it would seem that the young American now imprisoned in North Korea went there on a Christian mission in support of the Gospel. This is pure speculation, of course. I could be way wrong.

A primary source of informationwas the ROK Drop site. The conclusion there is that Aijaon Mahli is another Robert Park–and that he is likely to “get the same treatment.” Now, that is disturbing. Robert Park (see photo) walked across a frozen river from China into North Korea on Christmas Day, 2009. Witnesses say that he was shouting, “I am an American citizen. I am bringing God’s love. God loves you.” Robert Park was carrying a letter to the North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jung-il, calling for human rights in the country. Here is a blip from a Reuters interview with Robert Park the week before he crossed over:

My demand is that I do not want to be released. I don’t want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free. Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will. I am Christian and it says in the Bible that we must love the lost. We must love the poor and the needy. We must love them more than ourselves.

(For) these innocent men, women and children, as Christians, we need to take the cross for them. The cross means that we sacrifice our lives for the redemption of others.

I am going in for the sake of the lives of the North Korean people. And if he (Kim Jong-il) kills me, in a sense, I realize this is better. Then the governments of the world will become more prone to say something, and more embarrassed and more forced to make a statement.

Now that, my friends, is an example of getting out of bed and doing something. Really, it is mind-boggling. It makes my little sacrifices look like chicken feed. Please know that I am not saying that Robert Park (or Aijalon Mahli) did the “right thing.” I don’t know them personally, and I know very little of the situation for either. I know even less about North Korea. My point is that they were motivated to act–even against enormous odds–on their desires and beliefs. The same claim could be made for homicide bombers, of course, who strap on (or commandeer) an explosive device and blow themselves (and anyone else nearby) into eternity–but, think about it, their ordeal is quickly over. For Robert Park and Aijalon Mahli, their actions were just the beginning.

North Korea “detained” Robert Park “for questioning” over a six week period. Before releasing him, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) gave this account of the event:

Pyongyang, February 5 (KCNA) — As already reported, American national Robert Park was detained for trespassing on the northern border of the DPRK in December last year.

He was interviewed by KCNA at his proposal while he was under investigation by the relevant organ of the DPRK.

At the interview, he said that he was taken in by the false rumor spread by the West and committed a criminal act in the end.

He went on to say:

I trespassed on the border due to my wrong understanding of the DPRK caused by the false propaganda made by the West to tarnish its image.

The West is massively feeding “Children of Secret State”, “Seoul Train” and other documentary videos with stories about non-existent “human rights abuses” and “mass killings” in the DPRK and “unbearable sufferings” of its Christians and the like.

This false propaganda prompted me, a Christian, to entertain a biased view on the DPRK.

So I didn’t know what to do at that time. I just prayed and fasted and that was my initial response, but year by year more news reports, international media reports came and there were more videos saying the same thing, in fact, saying that it was getting worse, and so that’s why I started to become more and more distraught. If there are people in concentration camps, if Christians are dying like this, if there is starvation I have to die with them. If I help them I would go to Heaven but if I don’t help them I would go to Hell.

At last I made up my mind to go to the DPRK.

Upon trespassing on the border, I thought I would be either shot to death by soldiers or thrown behind bars, prompted by Americans’ false propaganda about the DPRK.

However, the moment I trespassed on the border, the attitude of soldiers toward the trespasser made me change my mind.

Not only service personnel but all those I met in the DPRK treated me in a kind and gentlemanly manner and protected my rights.

I have never seen such kind and generous people.

People have been incredibly kind and generous here to me, very concerned for my physical health as never before in my life. I mean, my family, of course, is concerned about my physical health but people here have been constantly concerned and I’m very thankful for their love.

Another shocking fact I experienced during my stay in the DPRK is that the religious freedom is fully ensured in the DPRK, a reality different from what is claimed by the West.

Being a devout Christian, I thought such things as praying are unimaginable in the DPRK due to the suppression of religion.

I, however, gradually became aware that I was wrong.

Everybody neither regarded praying as something unusual nor disturbed it. I was provided with conditions for praying everyday as I wished.

What astonished me more was that a bible was returned to me.

This fact alone convinced me that the religious freedom is fully ensured in the DPRK.

I came to have stronger belief as I had an opportunity to attend the service in the Pongsu Church in Pyongyang.

I worshipped and there, there was the Jondosa, there, there was a pastor, there was a choir, they knew the hymns, they knew the word of God. That’s why I was completely amazed. But I began to weep and weep in the Christian service because I learned that there are churches and Christians such as Pongsu Kyohoe (Church) in different cities and regions all throughout the DPRK. They worship, pray and preach freely the word of the Bible and Christ word. I’ve learned that in the DPRK people can read and believe whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, that there’s complete religious freedom for all people everywhere throughout the DPRK.

What I have seen and heard in the DPRK convinced me that I misunderstood it. So I seriously repented of the wrong I committed, taken in by the West’s false propaganda.

I would not have committed such crime if I had known that the DPRK respects the rights of all the people and guarantees their freedom and they enjoy a happy and stable life.

I have felt shock, embarrassment, shame. Here I’m in the lands where people respect human rights and, not just respecting human rights, they have actually loved me and showed me more than just human rights. They have shown me grace. I repent and ask for forgiveness to the DPRK for my misunderstanding totally DPRK’s reality and my criminal illegal behavior. Had I known the reality of the DPRK, what I’ve learned here, what I have been shown here, what I’ve been taught here, what I’ve been informed here by all the kind people here about the DPRK, I would have never done what I did on the December 25th and I repent and I’m very sorry.

Prompted by my desire to redeem the crime I committed against the government of the DPRK, I would make every effort to let those who misunderstand the DPRK properly know what I experienced here so they may have a correct understanding of it.

He, as a Christian, expressed his will to earnestly pray so reunification may be achieved and peace settle on the Korean Peninsula as early as possible.

I know that was a long quote–but what could be left out? Reports that have been portrayed as Robert Park’s version, by the way, read a little differently. He has yet to say much, that I have found, but the little that has been said is alarming, if true–especially considering that another American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, may right now be enduring the same. Here is a March 5th article from Newser:

The Korean-American missionary who was released Feb. 6 after six weeks’ imprisonment in North Korea has suffered a mental breakdown due [to] sexual abuse while he was in custody. Robert Park, 28, has been in a California mental facility for more than two weeks, his pastor tells Chosun Ilbo, after he exhibited stress-related panic symptoms.

“After being taken to Pyongyang, Robert went through indescribably hideous sexual abuse,” Jon Benson says of Park, who illegally crossed the North Korean border Christmas Eve. “He called the North Korean regime more wicked than the Nazis.”

Here is the story, as given by the South Korean newspaper, The Chosun Ilbo:

North Korean security agents specialize in torture techniques using needles, water and electric shocks, but recently, sexual abuse is said to have become the preferred interrogation tool.

Robert Park, a missionary released by Pyongyang last month after crossing the border on Christmas Eve, was severely beaten and sexually abused during his detention, according to his close associates. Park, 28, who was released after 43 days in detention has received psychiatric treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

He was severely beaten by North Korean border guards just after crossing over the border. After being transferred to Pyongyang, Park was then tortured by security agents. The sexual abuse was probably intended to break his will and exact a fabricated apology.

Look, I’m no expert on North Korea, South Korea, terrorism, propaganda or any of that. Like I said at the beginning of this post, my interest here (aside from the desire that all people be treated with compassion) is centered on motivational theory. I began with how to motivate myself to do the necessary work before me and ended up in amazement over the stories of those who have given it all up for a cause greater than themselves. Looking at my own puny ambitions, I am stifled. For me, it is time for some soul searching and self reflection.

In the end, the truth will be known. As far as I can tell, Robert Park has yet to speak publicly about his experience. I wish him and his family all the best. They are in my prayers. I could be wrong about Aijalon Mahli Gomes. That story, too, will someday come to light. There is little or nothing that I can do about either. I can do something about my own story, though. I can do something about my own desires and ambitions. The next time I am telling myself that 0400 is way too early to roll out of bed, I’m going to remember Aijalon and Robert. I’m going to see them in captivity, and I’m going to reflect on how fortunate I am to have a warm bed, a sound body and the freedom to get up and do as I please.


  1. Jeff Smith says:

    Great posts concering Robert Park. I know that Aijalon had met Robert before and he probably had similar mindset in going there. I had read the obviously fabricated apology by Robert Park and knew it must have been false. I’m not surprised to read of his torture. NK is the biggest human rights abuser in the world, without doubt. Let’s pray for Robert’s healing and also that Aijalon will be realased. More importantly, let’s pray for a free NK as soon as possible.

  2. Glenn A. Youngman says:

    He got what he deserved for trespassing.

  3. Nate Cottrell says:

    Let me just end the speculation for you, I had the pleasure of knowing Aijalon and he is certainly very religious. Also, just because you have a biblical name doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re into the bible, but I digress. Aijalon was the first non-Korean I met when I moved to Korea over a year ago, and I was shocked to find out that he was in North Korean prison. We hung out some, got drunk once or twice together. He’s a nice guy. I grew up in the church, and he acted like most of the people I knew who are Christians, praying before meals, etc., and I believe he briefly tried to evangelize to me, but I’ve met Christians who are waaaaaay more fanatical than what I believed him to be.

    I don’t exactly approve of his actions, and there are times when I agree with Glenn, that what he did was so stupid that he deserves it. But you’re right, what am I doing with my life? I’m not exactly sure how this plan was supposed to work, but who knows, he could end up as the Martin Luther King Jr. of our generation… I mean, Nelson Mandela spent a lot of time in prison, you could go down the list of peaceful public figures and they all went through some intense suffering to get their message across.

    What saddens me the most about this is that they’ve clearly broken his spirit. And, I’m guessing they did it by doing some horrible things to someone who, religion or not, was an all-around nice guy who was well-liked by many in our small expat community here in South Korea.

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