MISSISSAUGA–A Toronto pastor who lost contact with his family over a month ago while on a humanitarian mission in North Korea has been detained in that country, a spokeswoman for the man’s family said Thursday.
Lisa Pak said Canadian authorities notified Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim’s family that North Korea’s government had confirmed his detention. She said the family was told Lim is facing charges but could not say what they are.
Lim left Canada on Jan. 27 with a few days stopover in South Korea before travelling on to China and crossing into North Korea on Jan. 31, Pak said, adding the family has not heard from him since then.
Lim, 60, has travelled to North Korea more than 100 times on humanitarian missions, Pak said, with much of his work concentrated in the impoverished country’s northeastern region of Rason.
One of the projects Lim spearheaded “aims to help the people there live sustainably,” she said, adding “they can grow their own food now, so they don’t always have to receive aid.”
The pastor also helped out schools, an orphanage and a nursing home, Pak said, adding his trip was not meant to be political.
Lim’s wife and 32-year-old son are “doing as best as they can,” Pak said.
“I think now that there’s news, there’s relief, but now it’s a different kind of burden,” she said.
A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said officials are aware of a “Canadian citizen detained in North Korea” and are in contact with the family but declined further comment for privacy reasons.
“Canada has long advised and continues to advise against any and all travel by Canadians to North Korea,” Caitlin Workman wrote in an email.
“As there is no resident Canadian government office in the country, the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance is extremely limited.”
Lim started the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., nearly three decades ago, shortly after he immigrated from South Korea. He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members today, Pak said. He also runs a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people, she said.
North Korea is just one of many countries where Lim performs humanitarian work, said Pak, who’s also a spokeswoman for the church.
“He’s a tank. I find it hard to keep up with him.”
The church will hold a public prayer meeting on Monday at 11 a.m. for the reverend.