By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
PYONGYANG/TORONTO (BosNewsLife)– A Canadian pastor freed from a North Korean prison camp says he has forgiven those who wrongfully caused his prosecution by posting comments on the internet. Hyeon Soo Lim made the remarks in an interview with 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s longest running daily television show after he was unexpectedly released last month following two and a half years of hard labor.
Lim often visited communist-run North Korea, bringing some $50-million in humanitarian aid on behalf of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, which he had led since 1986. But the 62-year-old pastor was suddenly detained in February 2015. He was given a life sentence of hard labor on charges of crimes against the state, after initially facing the death penalty.
He explained that North Korean authorities had seen comments he made during a Christian conference in the United States. “A part of what I said in the U.S. about North Korea was put on the internet. I said: ‘they should believe in God instead of [late leader] Kim Il-sung and Jesus instead of [late strongman] Kim Jong-il.’ That was the problem. That was why they arrested me.”
The pastor added that he had “always been careful about talks about North Korea being posted on the internet.” But he said, “someone put it up by mistake.” Asked whether he had forgiven those who made the mistake Lim said: “Ofcourse I forgave. It is God who allowed this to happen.”
Lim recalled that a North Korean lawyer assigned to defend him “acted more like a prosecutor.” However, “God gave me peace in my heart,” he said. “When I was sent to heavy labor I was surprised at first. It was unjust and unreasonable. But God immediately gave me peace, so I was feeling calm.”
He said “God had given” him a dream on the day of his sentencing involving a tiger. He ran away in that dream but eventually reached a peaceful riverside. “I realized that God will lift me up and will release me in His time. ”
Lim spoke about his suffering as it was “really hard” labor. “After doing that for two months, I lost 23 kilos. I could not hold my arm up or breathe properly. So I was sent to the hospital, after three weeks of waiting. The rooms at the hospital were like prison cells with surveillance cameras. It was a very outdated hospital.”
The Bible-believing-pastor stressed he had “no doubts” about God. “I could not do anything but work and eat. But I prayed as I worked.” He was overjoyed when after one year a Bible arrived from Canada which he could read in the few hours he did not work. “I could not always worship loudly as I want. At times I had to worship in my mind. It depended on who was guarding me. Sometimes I could sing hymns in front of people. But other times just in my mind.”
Before his arrest, Lim made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997, and his humanitarian efforts included the founding by his church of nursery, an orphanage, and nursing home in the northeastern city of Rajin. “I saw many people die of starvation when I visited first,” Lim explained. Eventually, his team managed to “take care of 13,500 children” and was even able to set up a school teaching English in Pyongyang. “We also bought boats so people could fish.”
He is sad that “everything stopped now” following his release. But he remains hopeful that the church aid to North Korea will soon continue. “There is a chance that I could go back. But I pray about that. Our church does missionary work. North Korea is a high priority for us.”
He stressed that it was crucial to continue to help the isolated nation. “The people suffer greatly. People are martyred in prison. Some escape but most die there. Many have a three times more workload than I had [while in the prison camp],” he noted.
The pastor agrees that Western Christians can be thankful that they live in free nations such as Canada. “I thought a lot about freedom.”
But he also says that “pain and suffering are similar” for everybody. “If you truly believe that He loves you, no matter the circumstances, God’s time is the best time.”
He saw that Apostle Paul spoke in the Bible about patience. “Wait on Gods time. Through faith, we can face hardship and know that God is Love. It is a gift in the sky.”
The pastor said he was “thankful” to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other government officials involved in his release. “When I came back to Canada I was surprised about the love I received. I was shocked and so thankful for the prayers from the churches.”