TORONTO (AP) — A senior pastor at a Canadian church has been missing in North Korea since late January, officials said Tuesday.
Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim travelled to North Korea on Jan. 31 as part of a regular humanitarian mission where he supports a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage, said Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto. Pak said his family and church have not heard from him since.
The trip was about helping people and not political, she said. Lim, 60, has made over 100 trips to North Korea and has always previously been in regular contact his family and church, Pak said. He was scheduled to leave Feb. 4.
Pak said they are not sure why they haven't heard from him, but noted North Korea just lifted severe restrictions on foreign travel imposed last year to keep the Ebola virus from crossing its borders. The already isolated country virtually closed its borders to foreigners last October, halting all non-essential visas and requiring those few foreigners allowed in to undergo three weeks of quarantine.
"Even with the Ebola quarantine timing the delay is a little bit longer than expected," Pak said. "Hopefully, best case scenario we hear from him in a couple days."
Pak said Lim, who is married with an adult child, expanded the church from just five families to 3,000 parishioners today.
Toronto City Councilor Raymond Cho, who has known Lim for over 20 years, is concerned the North Korean regime may have detained him.
"The church is under real stress," said Cho, who said Lim is a great preacher who has raised money for poor North Koreans.
"If he's detained, if North Korea keeps him for whatever reason, it really doesn't look good for North Korea." Cho said. "A lot of people know that Reverend Lim has helped North Korea, especially poor people."
Nicolas Doire, a spokesman for Canada's foreign affairs department, said consular officials are in contact with family members and providing assistance. Doire said there is no Canadian office in North Korea and the "ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance is extremely limited."