The United Methodist West Ohio Conference and Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, are praying for the safe return of Otto Warmbier, a young University of Virginia student arrested in North Korea and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Warmbier was charged with stealing a political propaganda poster from his hotel. He stated he was bringing the poster to a church member from Friendship as a “trophy” from his trip.
The U.S. has called on North Korea to release Warmbier and called the sentencing “unduly harsh.”
The conference leaders said they are following news reports about Warmbier’s arrest and sentencing and are staying in touch with the family.
“It is deeply troubling that any family would have to go through this kind of worry and concern from their child’s well-being. We hope and pray for forgiveness by the North Korea officials for any perceived transgressions by the young man, and for his quick and safe return to his family.”
Warmbier, who had traveled to Pyongyang on a trip organized by Young Pioneer Tours, was arrested on Jan. 2 at the airport as he was about to board a plane.
The North Korean government alleged that the young man was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a member of the church in his home state of Ohio, a secretive university organization and even the CIA.
In a tearful video, Warmbier said he made “the worst mistake of my life.”
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].