Four and a half hours after leaving Seoul, I arrive at Hyundai Church in Dongho-dong, Tongyeong city, South Gyeongnam Province. It is a little after 2PM on September 6. A large banner announcing, ‘Rescue the Daughter of Tongyeong’ hangs on the front wall of the church (see picture).
A man comes out carrying a package while other church members load a car with equipment. Various materials about rescuing the daughter of Tongyeong are noticeable through the busy crowd. Telling them that I have come to meet the preacher conducting the Shin Suk Ja rescue campaign, one man finally stops and looks at me. This is my first meeting with Bang Su Yeol.
Bang tells me what is going on, saying, “About 200 preachers and elders from the Presbyterian Church of Korea are having a conference at Keumho Marina Resort today. I have to promote the campaign to rescue Shin Suk Ja and her daughters there. I will hold a mini exhibition there to help me collect a hundred thousand signatures.”
Bang had been holding a ‘prison camp exhibition’ since May 25, he tells me. There, he accidentally discovered that the hometown of Shin Suk Ja, who lives in just such a North Korean prison camp, is Tongyeong, and so began the rescue campaign in earnest.
Shin is the wife of Dr. Oh Kil Nam, a retired economist with pro-North Korean leanings who was persuaded to defect to the country by North Korean agents in the 1980s. He went there with Shin and their daughters, against Shin’s wishes. A year later when Oh escaped, Shin, who had urged him not to try and lure other South Koreans to North Korea as the authorities had demanded, told him to consider her dead.
Bang has been conducting the signature campaign for four months at places including a local hypermarket, the Great Battle of Hansan Festival, the local ferry terminal, and at the College of Marine Science, part of Kyungsang University.
When I arrive at the exhibition, Bang’s wife Soh Shin Hyang is attaching exhibits exposing the reality of North Korean prison camps to a small board. The petition sign-up sheet sits along with it.
Soh explains, “We can’t miss this great opportunity with preachers and elders from Seoul coming. We are going to explain about the daughter of Tongyoung rescue campaign and the prison camps and collect signatures through this mini exhibition. And we are going to request them to direct the signature campaign toward the members of their churches.”
Asking her why they are conducting the rescue campaign, she says, “It seems to be touching many people’s hearts that Shin Suk Ja strongly urged Dr.Oh not to kidnap Korean international students, and her attitude of trying not to hurt other families despite her misfortune.”
“We got this opportunity after preachers and elders in Seoul heard about the conference in Tongyeong and directly contacted us. If they help us, it will be a big help for the Daughter of Tongyeong rescue campaign,” Bang himself adds.
Kang Bong Nam, a preacher from ‘Janghowon Sungmun Church’ who later sees the exhibition, comments to me, “Although it’s not the first time I’ve seen these, it’s still shocking. Things that shouldn’t happen are happening. I don’t know how helpful it will be, but I want to participate in the campaign to extend the signature campaign to rescue Shin Suk Ja and her daughter.”
One hundred and fifty people join the signature campaign at the exhibition on this one day. Some preachers promise to take the task back to Seoul.
Bang has collected 44,000 signatures as of September 5. He says he is planning to send the UN a formal letter when he gets 100,000.