MIAMISBURG, Ohio—The plan was always to leave behind a copy of the Bible, in the hope it would find its way to someone in North Korea who needed its inspiration.
Jeffrey Fowle, a 56-year-old road-maintenance worker and father of three from Ohio, had done the same thing once before in a communist country, he said in an interview on Friday at his lawyer’s office in Lebanon, Ohio, with his wife and children at his side. That was in Turkmenistan, in 1989.
When he was planning a trip to North Korea in the spring, he went on Amazon.com to buy Korean language books so he could pick up a few key phrases before the trip.
He also purchased a Korean-English study Bible, which he said he planned to leave behind so that a member of North Korea’s underground Christian community would find it.
“It’s only one Bible, but I thought I’d put that in the hands of the underground church to give them something to pass around and help them with their faith,” Mr. Fowle said.
Mr. Fowle discussed his plans to travel to North Korea with members of Bethel Baptist Church before he left, and they expressed concerns about the trip, said Jim Shihady, the pastor. Some told Mr. Fowle that little could be done to improve life in such a strict dictatorship.
Mr. Fowle said he didn’t tell anyone of his plans to leave the Bible behind, including his wife or members of the two churches he attends.
When he arrived in North Korea, Mr. Fowle knew it was a “closed” and “hard-line” country. His experience there didn’t change that view, but the chance to meet average citizens softened his view of them, who he said simply wanted to live “peaceful, prosperous” lives.
Traveling on a group train tour of the country that included stops on the country’s east and west coasts, Mr. Fowle chose to leave the Bible behind on one of the tour’s last stops, at the Seamen’s Club in Chongjin, North Korea. There, he thought, it wouldn’t be noticed by strict North Korean authorities, as the club was located away from the hotel he was staying in and away from security.
“I thought it would be under less scrutiny there,” he said.
With time running out at the club, Mr. Fowle went into the bathroom to leave the Bible behind.
“I was kind of panicking,” he said, describing how he placed it under a trash bin and covered it with a piece of paper.
He realized that this would make it impossible for him to say later that he left it behind by mistake.
He was arrested and faced charges for committing “hostile acts” against the country, but the charges were never formally filed and he never faced trial. He admitted guilt and requested forgiveness.
Mr. Fowle was released last week after nearly six months in captivity, returning home to his wife Tatyana and three children—Alex, 13, Stephanie, 9, and Chris, 11. He missed all of their birthdays while he was in North Korea.