CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — This Christmas season, suggested South Korean Rev. Billy Kim, U.S. servicemembers here might want to take a moment to think about the people on the other side of the DMZ — where, he said, it’s illegal to own a Christmas tree, let alone decorate one.

Kim, who spoke to 2nd Infantry Division soldiers here Friday, owns eight Christian radio stations that broadcast into North Korea and China. The Bob Jones University graduate also smuggles Bibles and radios into North Korea but hasn’t risked sending Christmas decorations, cards or presents, he said.

Kim said possessing a Christmas tree or Bible can mean forced labor camp or even death in North Korea. “There are more Christians in North Korea than in South Korea, but they are all underground up there,” he said.

Kim also spoke to senior officers who gathered at the Commanding General’s Mess to hear about Kim’s early experiences with U.S. soldiers during the Korean War. “My school was burned in the war, he said. “There was no school to go to, so the next thing to do was bum around with American soldiers and try to learn English.”

In a Taegu apple orchard, Kim met U.S. Army Sgt. Carl Powers, who invited him to apply for a scholarship to Bob Jones University in the United States.

“To go to America is the dream of every Korean teenager but it scared me to death. I said: ‘I’m too small, Mom won’t let me, and I don’t speak enough English.’ Every excuse I offered he wouldn’t accept,” Kim recalled.

At Bob Jones University Kim converted to Christianity. “I studied political science, but God had another plan,” he said.

Kim now preaches throughout South Korea, particularly to U.S. soldiers. Last week, a group gathered at the Red Cloud theater to hear Christmas songs performed by his Far East Broadcasting Company Children’s Choir, made up of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders.

“We pray for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of you are separated from your families. Even though you are separated, I trust that God will give you special joy and happiness as we celebrate Christmas time,” Kim told the soldiers Friday.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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