'Ecstatic and joyful': Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim reunites with family after release from North Korea

'Ecstatic and joyful': Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim reunites with family after release from North Korea

Toronto-area pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was reunited with his family in Ontario today after more than two years in detention in North Korea.

"We're extremely happy," the pastor's son James Lim told media at a press conference Saturday afternoon. "We are ecstatic and joyful that my father is now home."

James Lim added that his dad was grateful to the Canadian government and Canadian people for their support.

"We are proud to be Canadians. One of the things my father shared is that as a Canadian going to North Korea for him was to be able to share the blessing of Canada to those in North Korea," the pastor's son said. "To know that Canada has stood for him, stood by him — we are so grateful."

Lim landed in Ontario Saturday morning and is resting. He walked from the plane unaided, but did not appear at the news conference.

James Lim said his dad was in "good health," but noted that the family planned to arrange for extended medical attention, including checkups.

"He is doing very well, considering everything he has gone through," he said.

He joked that his father wanted to stop at Tim Hortons for coffee and a doughnut on his way home from CFB Trenton, where he landed earlier this morning.

The press conference didn't share much information on negotiations with the North Koreans.

"It's a delicate dance. There's a lot of complexity to it," James Lim said.

But he said family here in Canada never gave up hope that his father would be released.

Reuniting with the family

The 62-year-old pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., just outside Toronto, had requested a private reunion with his family and did not appear at the news conference.

He has a granddaughter, not yet one year old, who he met today for the first time.

His son said the moment of reuniting with his father and introducing his baby was far greater than he could have imagined. 

"It was surreal in the beginning to witness my father coming off an airplane after two and a half years," James Lim said. "He's only been able to see her through photographs, and it was the first time that he's been able to see her today. It was just incredible."

Global Affairs Canada issued a statement on Lim's release Saturday asking that his family's request for privacy be respected.

"Today, we join Pastor Lim's family and congregation in celebrating his long-awaited return to Canada," the agency said. "Canada has been actively engaged on Mr. Lim's case at all levels, and we will continue to support him and his family now that he has returned."

Sentenced to life of hard labour

Lim and his family had not seen each other in person since the pastor was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to a life of hard labour in prison for crimes against the state.

He was freed earlier this week, after a six-member Canadian delegation, led by Daniel Jean, who serves as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's national security and intelligence adviser, travelled to Pyongyang. The delegation travelled back with the Presbyterian pastor.

They flew to the Yokota Airbase in Japan from Pyongyang on Thursday, after North Korea's Central Court granted Lim "sick bail" on humanitarian grounds.

From there, the Royal Canadian Air Force CC-144 Challenger aircraft flew across the Pacific Ocean, making stopovers in Guam, Honolulu and Vancouver. It landed at CFB Trenton, about 170 kilometres east of Toronto, on Saturday morning.

- ANALYSIS | Odds of a North Korea nuclear 'nightmare' are slim, but here's what to watch for

James Lim said the family was able to speak to the pastor by phone after his release and that helped reassure them about his well-being.

The Canadian delegation was dispatched from Ottawa to the reclusive regime last Saturday. The team spent 40 hours in Pyongyang, from Tuesday evening until Thursday morning, holding talks with senior North Korean officials.