MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – The son of a Canadian pastor who was imprisoned for more than two years in North Korea said that faith is what kept his father and their whole family going throughout the ordeal.
Hyeon Soo Lim was serving a life sentence of hard labour in North Korea for alleged anti-state activities, but was released last week on what the government described as “sick bail.” His son, James Lim, said it was surreal to see him again after living in fear over what could happen.
“To know that Canada has stood by him, we are so grateful,” said James Lim, speaking at the Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., where Hyeon Soo Lim serves as a pastor.
“He’s so happy to be home, he’s extremely grateful to the Canadian government, to the Canadian people. Now more than ever, he’s never felt more Canadian.”
James Lim said his father was resting at home, after arriving on a Canadian government aircraft Saturday morning. A video shows Hyeon Soo stepping out of the small jet and embracing his family.
“My mother was the first one who he was able to embrace, and just to witness that, you play in your head what it’s going to be like, and it was far greater than anything we could have imagined,” James Lim said.
Hyeon Soo Lim was released from prison earlier in the week after a Canadian delegation — led by Daniel Jean, who serves as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security and intelligence adviser — travelled to Pyongyang, North Korea.
Hyeon Soo Lim had been on a humanitarian mission to assist with food security to the country’s citizens, his son said. He also distributed diapers and eyeglasses, and brought English teachers and optometrists along on the trip.
Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for Hyeon Soo’s family who also works with him at the church, said that he had been to North Korea more than 110 times on humanitarian missions, and wasn’t sure what led to his arrest in 2015.
“As a Canadian, going to North Korea for him was to be able to share the blessing of Canada to those in North Korea,” said James Lim, saying that his father was a brave person to devote so much time to helping people in North Korean.
The family thanked Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Global Affairs Canada for their efforts in getting Hyeon Soo Lim released.
“There were a lot of calls, a lot of visits to Ottawa, a lot of back and forth between two different governments,” James Lim said. “It was definitely an ordeal.”
The reunion was Hyeon Soo Lim’s first time seeing his granddaughter, who was born while he was imprisoned. James Lim said his father is excited to celebrate her upcoming first birthday, and to eventually take her ice fishing, which is one of his favourite hobbies.
Family members wouldn’t comment on Hyeon Soo Lim’s health at the time of his arrival, and said that they are more focused on spending time with each other after he was isolated for so long.
“He was telling me that he had about 2,700 meals on his own,” said James Lim, adding that it was hard to imagine being in isolation for that long.
“Through those times, he’s been able to spend time with God in solitude,” he said. “I would say he made the best of it considering his circumstances.”
Hyeon Soo Lim will make his first public appearance on Sunday at the Light Presbyterian Church’s Sunday service.
Note to readers: This is corrected story. A previous version had the first name of the pastor spelled incorrectly.