South Korean-born Canadian pastor, whose imprisonment in North Korea caused seemingly temporary uproar in the West, is serving a life of hardships and misery in a DPRK prison camp where he appears to be the only inmate.
Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, the highest minister at one of Canada’s biggest churches, frequently visited the hermit country on humanitarian missions. It was during one of these trips when the authorities detained him for engaging in “subversive plots and activities” and sentenced him with a life of hard labor.
“I wasn't originally a laborer, so the labor was hard at first,” Hyeon told CNN in his first interview to the Western media. “But now I've gotten used to it.”
Although Pyonyang never clarified the specifics of the charges against him, the country’s apex court said Hyeon had attempted to overthrow the government and undermine its social system with “religious activities.”
Meanwhile, the inmate said he came to the country hoping to establish an orphanage and a nursing home in the northeastern city of Rajin. However, his views about the secretive state have largely changed since his imprisonment.
“I used to think they deified their leaders too much,” the pastor said. “But as I read the memoirs of both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, they never called themselves gods.”
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He believes that his biggest mistake was talking ill about the supreme leader Kim Jong-un, whose penchant for harsh punishments is widely known. Now, the devout Christian spend at least eight hours a day, six days a week, digging holes in the prison orchid for the plantation of apple trees.
“I hope I can go home some day,” he told CNN. “Nobody knows if I will ever go home, but that is my hope. I miss my family. I am longing to see them again, and my congregation.”
So far, he has received two letters from his– courtesy of Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which customarily performs such services on behalf of the United States. He said he has written back to them, but a family spokesperson claimed that they have not received anything for him as of yet.
“I have realized so keenly how valuable my family is, how precious it is to me,” he added tearfully, when asked to record a message for his family. “Family is a precious gift from God. I would like to tell my family I love them so much.”
Hyeon is a minister at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario. Being a Canadian citizen who emigrated from South Korea in 1986, he had visited North Korea more than 100 times since 1997 and had even help set up a nursing home and an orphanage in the reclusive state.
He is also the only known Western citizen being held in Kim Jong-un’s brutal regime.