Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim attended a Sunday morning service at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., just a day after arriving in Canada following more than two years of imprisonment in North Korea.
“I am happy,” Lim said with a smile, thronged by euphoric parishioners and a crush of journalists as he entered the church, which he founded. “I am proud to be Canadian.”
Accused of plotting to overthrow North Korea’s ruling regime, Lim was sentenced to a lifetime of hard labour in 2015. The pastor had travelled to North Korea more than a hundred times to lead humanitarian programs. His release came after a Canadian delegation travelled to Pyongyang earlier this week to negotiate his release. Lim, who was released on Wednesday, arrived in Canada on Saturday.
“I am so grateful that God has allowed me to be here with everyone here today,” Lim told his congregation in Korean, according to a translation of his prepared remarks that were provided to CTV News.
Lim thanked the prime minister and his team for helping secure his release as well as those who prayed for him.
“It still feels like a dream,” he said of his freedom. “Truly, this is all by the grace of God.”
In his address, Lim spoke of “days of overwhelming loneliness.”
“It was difficult to see when and how the entire ordeal would end,” he said. “But this isolation also gave me the opportunity to spend an extended time of solitude with God.”
Forced to toil in a labour camp, Lim described the backbreaking work of digging holes in the frozen earth.
“My upper body was sweating; my fingers and toes were frostbitten,” he said.
In the spring and summer, he said he worked eight hours a day, the work so trying that he was hospitalized four times, once for a stretch of two months. But he found respite in reading books on North Korean history and memorizing verses from the bible.
“I worshipped alone for 130 Sundays,” he said. “While I was labouring, I prayed without ceasing.”
Lim said it was his faith that allowed him to overcome his despair and harsh treatment in North Korea.
“I learned to fully accept all of this as a form of God’s love and discipline to make me stronger,” he said, before embarking on an unscripted benediction. “By God’s perfect and sovereign timing, I was released, returned home and here with you today.”