MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – A Canadian pastor freed from a North Korean prison says he spent two years in isolation, doing gruelling physical labour that landed him in hospital on several occasions.
Hyeon Soo Lim spoke in Korean to the congregation at a Toronto-area church Sunday during his first public appearance since arriving home.
In an English translation of the address provided to media, Lim describes the work he was forced to do and the effects it had on his body.
Lim had been sentenced to life in prison with hard labour for alleged anti-state activities, but was released on what the North Korean government described as “sick bail” last week.
“The mud was so hard it took two days to dig one hole. It was incredibly challenging. My upper body was sweating; my fingers and toes were frostbitten,” he said.
“One year of this difficult labour took a toll on my body and I was admitted to the hospital for two months. There would be three other occasions where I would be admitted to the hospital in serous condition.”
When Lim arrived at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., he was greeted by a cheering crowd. Some in the crowd reached out to embrace him as he passed.
About a half hour later, Lim gave his address in front of a church so full that some people who couldn’t find seats stood in the back.
And although the speech’s contents read as solemn in the English translation, he delivered them energetically. He and the audience laughed as he delivered jokes in Korean that congregants later described as self-deprecating.
He joked that he’s now an expert in North Korea, explaining that he read more than a hundred books on the country while in prison.
He said he also read the Bible in both English and Korean five times “and memorized over 700 Bible verses.”
Together, the congregants sang a song with lyrics that Lim wrote while he was imprisoned, reportedly about the importance of faith.