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Detained in China:
Rev. Phillip Jun Buck

Humanitarian Worker for NK Refugees in China

Name:   Reverend Phillip Jun Buck
Previous Name:   John S. Yoon

Background information

Reverend Phillip Jun Buck was born on January 6, 1941 in Hwang Hae Nam Do, Ong Jin Goon, North Korea. Reverend Buck was separated from his parents during Korean War in the 1950s. He came to South Korea during the war and lived there until he immigrated to the United States in 1982.

Reverend Buck became naturalized and became a citizen in 1989. He resided in the state of Washington before he left for China to actively help the refugees. In 1997, Reverend Buck finally had a chance to meet with his family in North Korea as he made a visit. After seeing and understanding the harsh life Koreans in North Korea faced, that became the motivation to begin his help to the North Koreans.

Reverend Buck began his ministry as a missionary at Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, Russia in January 1992. Reverend Buck found several seminaries and established churches in these two cities, and several others, along with broadcasting the Gospel through the means of public radio station. In 1994, the pastor began to expand his ministry to China and worked with Korean Chinese evangelists. He then began his missionary work to North Korea in 1997 where he started operating a noodle factory at Sun Bong Goon. For one year, Reverend Buck provided thousands of noodle bowls to citizens everyday for free of charge. Later, he decided to close down the factory because he came to realize that this was not enough to help the North Koreans. Reverend returned to China in 1998 and helped the North Korean refugees by providing them with food and shelter and by sharing the Gospel.

During the next seven years, Reverend Buck returned to the United States several times to raise money from local churches and individuals for his humanitarian assistance programs. When he returned to China, he built several shelters at Tsingtao, Chungjin, Beijing, Yanji, and Tuman for the North Korean refugees and provided them with humanitarian assistance.

Reverend Buck received his Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Han Same University in 1970 along with the Master’s Degree in Pastorate. He is the member of Assembly of God Korean District and was sent by Assembly of God to serve as a missionary. He first went to Russia in 1992, then from Russia, he went to China and to North Korea. Reverend Buck has been serving as a pastor for 35 years and as a missionary for 14 years.

Account of the Incident

On May 9, 2005, Reverend Phillip J. Buck was arrested by the Chinese police, along with three pastors from the United States and South Korea. Several North Korean refugees who had been receiving humanitarian assistance from Reverend Buck were also arrested as they were traveling to Mongolia to get to South Korea. There is no current information about the status of these detained refugees.

The three pastors arrested with Reverend Buck were released later that day; however Reverend Buck was detained. An investigation was conducted into Reverend Buck’s humanitarian work in China. Reverend Buck explained to the Chinese authorities that his work had no political affiliation or purpose. He further explained that it was his intention to act with humanitarian concern because he was not able to ignore the desperate needs of the North Korean refugees.

Reverend Buck is currently detained in Yanji at a detention center for foreigners.

Reasons to help

Reverend Buck has helped dozens of desperate, destitute, hungry, and frightened North Korean refugees. He provided these refugees care, comfort, and compassion, away from the maltreatment and harsh living conditions in North Korea.

Reverend Buck had no harmful intentions toward the government or people of China. His desire to help these people came from his huge humanitarian heart, a calling of such importance to him that he sacrificed everything in his life so that he might be a part of the solution to the plight of his people. Reverend Buck was born in North Korea, and has a special affinity for the people of North Korea and China. Although he lived in South Korea since the time of the Korean War, he never forgot his homeland and the love he had for his family, friends, and countrymen. When he witnessed North Korean refugees sacrificing everything to obtain assistance in China, especially the younger children, it reminded him of himself as a child, leaving his family and his homeland behind. He could not ignore the calling he felt to participate in this great humanitarian effort to ease the burden and suffering of these people.

 Important   Update

Rev. Buck spent 15 months in Yanji prison, undergoing many hardships. Thanks to efforts by the US Embassy, he was spared further abuse when he was deported to the United States in August 2006.

Pastor Buck is barred from returning to China legally, but he continues to help North Korean refugees who have reached China by providing financial and other support. He has served as a witness at congressional hearings and in meetings with officials at the State Department.

For pictures and more information, click here.