The Words The Kwak Family

A Middle East Missionary's Prison Testimony

John Michael Bowles
July 1989
Unification Church Missionary to Qatar May 1975 to September 1975

Qatar in 1975

One day upon returning home, I found the ladder to our room in a new and unusual position. Someone said it was only kids looking for money. Since all private and valuable things were kept locked in the prayer room, everything seemed safe. Then one day before prayer, I was looking at True Parents' picture and my heart sank. There in front of their picture was a square area where no dust had settled. There had lain my plastic pledge card. Suspense raced through my being. A thorough search failed to turn it up. Also foot and finger prints appeared on doors, window sills, and floors. A list of foreign missionaries and their countries had to be burned and all important things moved. Into one large suitcase went all photographs, books and papers about the Unification Church. I carried this with me everywhere and never let it leave my sight. Eventually, one good friend agreed to keep it for me. To add to the tension, white car followed me one day and was seen the next day as well. At this time the first 90 days in my country was over, a new period was to begin -- a growth stage. So I started a new condition to fight against Satan's growing threats. It was strong and aggressive 40 minutes prayer, 3 times daily

Then one morning my passport and driving license were discovered missing from their pouch. No one could have gotten close enough to me to take it. The only strange man I had seen was one young policeman I knew who came to my house one afternoon drunk. He wanted to sleep there but he got thrown out, gently. But that was long ago and the pouch always stayed with me. Anyway, it was reported to the U.S. Embassy and the counsel told me to check around for two days and if it didn't show up, come back for a new one. Searching everywhere did not turn up anything. On the morning of the second day, someone was waiting outside for me. There were four men of the secret police and they asked me to go with them. They asked me about my passport and said it would only take five minutes if we go now. We drove to a couple of places, waiting all the while, then returned to my house to collect "anything you don't want to be stolen" -- a very conspiratorial remark.

There must have been so much they knew, or were thinking, that I couldn't even imagine. Then we visited the deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces (his superior was away). He was a fanatic and vehement person. He had already tried me and found me guilty of helping some communist activity in the area and assisting someone escape. Even when one major began to believe me the deputy commander-in-chief shouted all the more and said we should all leave. In another building, the contents of my suitcases (including the one I had retrieved from the friend) were itemized in a list. A request to call the U.S. Embassy was denied. They assured me it would be over in a short time. From the place that was apparently Supreme Headquarters, we traveled to a smaller walled-in building. Passing a couple of guards and steel doors, we ascended three flights of stairs and they settled me in a bedroom. "This is where you can stay for now; it won't be long now," they assured me again and again. Apparently it was the secret police headquarters and they wanted to keep me under observation for a while, in their afternoon sleeping room.

All along my attitude was to protect the name and reputation of True Parents and the Unification Church. Of course it was truthful to say I had come here to start a business, and all my words and deeds would testify to that, no matter who they asked. To protect our family (contacts/potential spiritual children) and our future work there I could never lie or try to trick them.

Loving My Captors

Somehow in my heart I really believed they had made a terrible mistake and would release me as soon as they saw their error. I hoped and prayed they could believe I loved them and their country. Maybe a willing and friendly, cooperative captive would have the best chance of getting released quickly without much investigation. It looked to be the best way to handle the matter at the time.

The officers who came and went in the building showed much curiosity in seeing me and most of them who could speak English engaged in some informal interrogation, maybe hoping to earn points toward a promotion. During the whole ordeal they never made any direct or conclusive accusation. After a few days I was moved to one room with barred windows and locked door. Inside was a desk and chair and bed. It was cooled by an air conditioner. Being the Ramadan month, breakfast was brought at 3:30 a.m. and dinner about 5:30 p.m., after the cannon sounded. I tried to make a good relationship with a couple of persons, but they had the same ultimate ends: to get the "goods" on me. They even became uneasy talking about God's love for man. I felt sorry for them and tried to serve them in any way I could. As my prayer condition was continued exactly, they would often come into the room while I was praying. They were soon convinced I was Muslim and prayed five times daily. But the 40 minute length of the prayers must have made them wonder what kind of Muslim!

They gave me none of my belongings, nothing. I shaved disastrously with a crude razor, washed and rewashed my t-shirt and pants, and recalled the verses of three songs: My Pledge, Suffering Heart, and Oh, My Little Lambs. Never did my prayer and singing have such fullness and feeling of Heavenly Father's heart as during those days and weeks. Three times daily I folded up a blanket, laid it on the floor, and facing east, asked Heavenly Father to be patient and understanding with these people, and forgive them their ignorance. I felt particularly close to Jesus and True Father then.

Ongoing Questioning

Several times I was escorted to the central police headquarters and there interrogated by two captains who were obviously well-educated and usually controlled themselves well. A couple of times I got angry and they would say things like, "You are in no position to make demands of us," or "You are not the one to say 'I don't believe you," or "This is not America, you know, there are no civil rights here." They never accepted my explanation about starting a business, but instead adhered to a strict, seemingly predetermined, suspicion that I was a communist. Later, the questioning indicated they thought I might be working for Israel and even the CIA.

My own feeling was that whoever was behind this interrogation was completely mixed up and if only I could speak to some truly responsible person who spoke English well, the affair could have been cleared up in our favor. Finally the inevitable happened; someone translated one of Father's talks I had and a letter from headquarters and it must have made their hair stand up, for the questions shifted abruptly from political issues to wanting to know about who is Sun Myung Moon, Ken Sudo, Nancy Neiland, IOWC. During one particular unfruitful session they showed me a telegram they had intercepted that was from my Japanese brother saying he was due to arrive on such and such a day and plane.

I said, "That's today! Did he come yet?" "No," was the reply, but they agreed to tell me when he came. At that moment I looked casually around the office and spotted a large travel suitcase. When no one was looking I flipped over the tag and read my Japanese brother's name. So, they had him too. I only felt pity for them and sympathy for Heavenly Father for my having been captured by such dishonest and foolish men.

Day after day, I prayed and sang many songs, talked to the officers on duty, watched some television, and tried to send a letter to my friend so he would tell the U.S. Embassy where I was. (I addressed it, even with stamps, and threw it out an open window in hopes that someone would mail it. It lay in the road a long time and was gone the next morning. Only my friend could have understood it.)

One day, toward the end, when all the damage was done, I got into a humorous mood. I hid underneath the small bed in my room. The man who eventually opened the door to check on me took one look at the empty room and the French doors I had thrown open (though there were steel bars) and dashed back down the hall shouting some excited Arabic. Quickly others came into the room, tested the steel bar grills and hurried out again arguing about what to do next. Having carried it far enough, I laid down quietly facing the wall. When their heads peeked in again, a dead silence came over the whole floor. The door closed, and locked.

Meeting the Other Missionary

Most of the staff members of these departments were composed of foreigners, but one native officer finally came and his duty was to take me to the U.S. Embassy for a new passport. He evidently thought this can be done instantly and I be put on the plane and gotten rid of, all in the same day. Upon hearing the reason why I needed a new passport fast, the vice-counselor was concerned and promised to protest to the country's foreign ministry. We would have to come back the next morning with new photos. The pictures we took at the passport photo lab came out so bad they had to be retaken the next morning. As I sat in the office waiting to leave, some other officers brought in a young Japanese man and stood at a desk nearby. Turning, I got a glimpse of his expressionless face. As they were leaving, our eyes met and I smiled. Then he knew what was happening. The American and Japanese foreign missionaries had met for the first time. No words, only that smile, a smile full of great purpose.

Even the official photos were not acceptable to the embassy, so I offered my own. The official said there is nothing they can do to help me (without starting a war), so, as long as I was in no physical pain, to please cooperate and leave when I could. Well, it was clear they wanted me out of there, but getting me out was posing a problem, for just as it seemed I was being freed from the walled-in secret police building, I was dropped, bags and all, into the military prison. That night I could pray and really felt the humid warmth of the late summer night. The prisoners sang and • ate then, as is the custom for Ramadan fasting. I tried to tell Heavenly Father not to notice these conditions. The disappointment I was experiencing was surely only a fraction of what He felt, after so much preparation. By this time my enthusiasm had declined and power was weak.

A Painful Ending

One policeman who had taken me to the U.S. Embassy returned the next day. I explained to him that before I leave here many business matters had to be taken care of and some belongings of mine were still in the central police headquarters. He got a little perturbed and spoke to some other officials. An agreement was reached and the request was granted. During the visits I made with my contacts, a uniformed soldier kept trying to come with us as if to shoot me trying to escape. After several protests to the policeman and an emphatic threat to stop cooperating right in the middle of town if he came with us, he agreed to have the soldier stay in the jeep. I felt something must be done to prevent the removal at all dignity from True Parents' and Heavenly Father's representative.

Then one more visit to the central police headquarters for the last attempt by them to get some confession and signature. I told them that for one month they had wasted their time and mine, they had probably missed the really dangerous ones right in their very midst and had caused me to suffer great loss of time and money as well as the confidence and trust of all my business associates (whom they never discovered). But they persisted that I was not telling them everything and I was determined to not leave until they had returned the photos of True Father, other missionaries, and all other materials they had photocopied. These were things that should not be left in their hands. They finally gave them up.

On the final morning of September 21, 1975, that officer and I drove to the airport, stamped the passport and parted, they to resume their jobs and I to a form of spiritual exile. I really felt banished, too. Having come to do only good, that walk out across the concrete to the waiting plane as painful enough for me, but I am sure it was much worse for Heavenly Father. This was the sad end result of more work and preparation throughout history than I could imagine, by True Parents and Heavenly Father. 

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