Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim met with cheers on his return to Mississauga church
An ecstatic crowd waited to greet the Canadian pastor on his return to the Light Presbyterian Church. Lim had spent 2 ½ years in North Korea prison, and was released earlier this week.
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When Hyeon Soo Lim walked through the front doors of the Light Presbyterian Church and looked at a crowd he hadn’t seen since he was taken captive in North Korea in early 2015, the room erupted into applause and chants of “our pastor” in Korean.
Lim, dressed in a black suit and tie with his hair closely shorn, raised both hands and smiled. And the crowd yelled louder, craning for a photo or a glance of the pastor they had been praying for.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Junghwe Kim had said minutes before, positioning herself next to a potted tree in the hopes of taking a photo of the 62-year-old Lim. “Oh my god,” she said expectantly, clutching her phone and smiling, as all around her, people held hands and waited, giddy and excited.
She talked of her prayers and her fears, and how happy she was that North Korea, which normally “does everything bad,” did a “very good” thing in releasing her pastor. “I hope he’s recovering.”
More than an hour before Lim arrived, church members stared out the window at the parking lot where Lim was due to arrive, waving at the phalanx of photographers and reporters who stood underneath a banner with their pastor’s smiling face and a message: “Welcome home Rev. Lim”
Anna Shin, who has been praying for Lim since the church found out he was captured during mission work in North Korea in January 2015, said she was “way too excited” for Sunday’s reunion with the congregation. She said the pastor is known for his sense of humour and his ability to connect with all ages.
Lim will not give the Sunday church service, but is expected to thank the congregation, according to church spokesperson Richard Ha.
Outside the church before the service, Lim told a group of reporters that he’s proud to be a Canadian.
“We are extremely happy,” said Lim’s son, James, addressing the media at the church on Saturday. “We’re ecstatic and joyful that my father is home. It was surreal in the beginning to witness my father coming off of an airplane after 2 ½ years.”
While he was in prison, Lim had only ever seen his not yet 1-year-old granddaughter in pictures, James Lim said. “It’s been amazing to see him hold my daughter for the first time.”
James Lim said his father is in good health and is recovering after the “ordeal.”
The elder Lim arrived in Toronto in the morning hours on Saturday. A spokesperson wouldn’t specify his route back to the city from North Korea.
“Everyone was excited when we heard the news” that he was freed, said Sam Shim, operations manager at Lim’s church, Saturday afternoon. “There was crying, joyful crying.”
After Lim was detained he was sentenced to life in a labour camp, with the regime there saying he had been conducting subversive actions against leader Kim Jong Un.
“He loved North Korea,” said Shim, adding that the congregation was “shocked” when Lim was detained.
Lim’s charitable work in North Korea was focused on food security and sustainable farming, the younger Lim said at the news conference.
North Korea’s Central Court granted Lim “sick bail” on humanitarian grounds on Wednesday.
Sweden helped facilitate his release as Canada does not have an embassy in North Korea.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Lim’s freedom Thursday afternoon in a written statement: “The Government of Canada was actively in engaged on Mr. Lim’s case at all levels. In particular, I want to thank Sweden, our protecting power in North Korea, for assisting us.”
It has been reported that Lim was in poor health and had lost a lot of weight.
In a video provided by a spokesperson Saturday, a thin-looking Lim can be seen exiting what appears to be a government jet, smiling and hugging his family.
A photo also provided by family shows him hugging his granddaughter on the tarmac.
At the press conference, James Lim joked that his father welcomed the weight loss, adding that he is “in good spirits and is excited to come to church tomorrow. He hasn’t seen the congregation in many years”
With files from Julien Gigna, Mary Ormsby and The Canadian Press