Skip to main content

Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV.

The unique disciplines of Christian Korean spirituality drew gasps and applause Sunday as Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim told his Toronto area congregation about his life in a North Korean prison during the past two and a half years. Daily digging of metre-deep holes through frozen mud, breaking apart frozen coal and outdoor labour in the scorching heat of summer under the constant watch of two guards was Rev. Lim's routine.

"I did not have a day of gloom," said Rev. Lim as he explained in a Korean heart-to-heart with his Mississauga congregation how he turned moments of despair into trust in God.

On Sunday, a strong Rev. Lim stood for the first time back in his Canadian pulpit and opened with deep thanks for Prime Minister Trudeau, negotiator Daniel Jean, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and the personnel of Global Affairs Canada. Then the reality of how a pastor walks with God when he's going through hell was revealed. Rev. Lim stuck to prayer, bible reading, scripture memorization, thankfulness, singing to God, and repeated the practice, again and again. He sang to God for more than eight hours each of the 130 Sundays he was imprisoned. The mystery of what happens internally to a person living out that rhythm was undeniable.

"Mentally, psychologically, spiritually, he's the same, he's great," said Pastor Jason Noh of Light Korean Presbyterian Church. Rev. Lim lost almost a third of his body weight, dropping from 90 to 67 kg in two months, but on Sunday he smiled and he joked with his congregation about the deprivation weight-loss program. He seemed chagrined that despite a rigorous examination by a Canadian doctor sent with his government rescue, no diagnosable ailment could be found. Rev. Lim is convinced prayer from churches around the globe made all the difference in his case.

Dawn Prayer is a unique daily gathering done by Canadian Koreans; at Rev. Lim's church, it happens before people head to work, at 5:30 a.m. weekday mornings and 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Outsiders might think God is deaf if you drop by. Volume and passion runs high at Dawn Prayer. Rev. Lim was on the agenda daily.

Koreans go to church in Canada as a family, and their tenacity is translated into their faith. "Our immigrant story is we came knowing we had nothing and had to work extremely hard to survive and that meant we had a huge dependency on God," said Anna Cho-Leon, who was hired as a youth pastor by Rev. Lim. The inter-generational mentoring in Korean church life is everywhere. Rev. Lim was a young missionary from South Korea who trained at Knox College in Toronto, mentored by Light Presbyterian founder Rev. Pak to reach out to young Korean families. On Sunday, the elderly Rev. Pak waited in a wheelchair for a private sushi lunch with Rev. Lim after all the congregants had been greeted. Rev. Pak recently put to music five hymns that Rev. Lim wrote while in prison, songs the congregation sang with tears streaming down their faces.

As this ordeal comes to an end, North Korea is left with the aftermath of Rev. Lim's crimes: millions of dollars of charitable investment that have created orphanages, homes for senior citizens, noodle and tofu factories, farming and educational programs in North Korea. Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for the church and Lim family, said there are no plans to continue the work. "We did a full stop on all Korean activity and always intended it to be a gift to the North Koreans; we have no plans on returning there."

An Ontario pastor jailed for over two years in North Korea thanked Canadians for their prayers and love as he returned to his Mississauga congregation

The Canadian Press