NEWS

Hyeon Soo Lim, Canadian Pastor, Held In North Korea: Family

03/05/2015 04:00 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT
JUNG YEON-JE via Getty Images
North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong is seen from a South Korean military check point of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas on February 4, 2015. North Korea appeared to rule out any resumption of dialogue with the United States, threatening to react to any US 'war of aggression' with nuclear strikes and cyber warfare. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - A Toronto pastor who lost contact with his family over a month ago while on a humanitarian mission in North Korea has been detained in that country, a spokeswoman for the man's family said Thursday.

Lisa Pak said Canadian authorities notified Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim's family that North Korea's government had confirmed his detention. She said the family was told Lim is facing charges but could not say what they are.

Lim left Canada on Jan. 27 with a few days stopover in South Korea before travelling on to China and crossing into North Korea on Jan. 31, Pak said, adding the family has not heard from him since then.

Lim, 60, has travelled to North Korea more than 100 times on humanitarian missions, Pak said, with much of his work concentrated in the impoverished country's northeastern region of Rason.

One of the projects Lim spearheaded "aims to help the people there live sustainably," she said, adding "they can grow their own food now, so they don't always have to receive aid."

The pastor also helped out schools, an orphanage and a nursing home, Pak said, adding his trip was not meant to be political.

Lim's wife and 32-year-old son are "doing as best as they can," Pak said.

"I think now that there's news, there's relief, but now it's a different kind of burden," she said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said Canadian consular officials are in contact with family members of the pastor and are providing assistance.

Assistance is difficult, however, because Canada has no diplomatic office in North Korea.

"The ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance is limited," Nicholson said.

"And this is why we have advised any and all travel by Canadians to North Korea to stop. Canadians shouldn't travel to North Korea under any circumstances."

"We're on top of the issue," the minister added.

Lim started the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., nearly three decades ago, shortly after he immigrated from South Korea. He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members today, Pak said. He also runs a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people, she said.

North Korea is just one of many countries where Lim performs humanitarian work, said Pak, who's also a spokeswoman for the church.

"He's a tank. I find it hard to keep up with him."

The church will hold a public prayer meeting on Monday at 11 a.m. for the reverend.