TACOMA, Wash. — Stepping onto American soil Nov. 8 for the first time in two years, Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae thanked supporters for their prayers during his two years’ of imprisonment in North Korea because of his faith in Jesus.
“Thank you for supporting me, lifting me up,” Bae said, according to the Seattle Times. “Thank you for all your support and prayer and love. It’s really been encouraging for me and for others.”
Bae stepped from a military plane at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Army installation near Tacoma, Wash., and walked into the embracing arms of his mother.
“I’m happy to be home but my heart continues to ache for the people of North Korea,” Bae said moments later, according to Eugene Cho, pastor of The Quest Church in Seattle where Bae’s sister Terri Chung is a member.
In a press release today (Nov. 10), Chung expressed concern for Bae’s health, and said she doesn’t know when her brother will be ready to further discuss his ordeal.
“Kenneth’s lengthy imprisonment has exacted a physical and emotional toll on Kenneth and the rest of the family, and we cannot begin to predict the extent of the aftermath at this point,” Chung said in a press release today (Nov. 10). “We need time to recover privately. We sincerely thank those who have made Kenneth’s release possible, and thank the news media for its interest.”
The family has no plans to grant press interviews at this time, Chung said in the press release. Earlier, she expressed deep concern for Bae.
“I am worried about him. I know that he’s changed,” she told the Seattle Times. “Because he had recovered some, he was in better shape than we expected. … As you know, he had gone back and forth between the labor camp and hospital.”
Bae has not spoken with reporters since the Nov. 8 press conference. The 46-year-old suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and other medical problems, and had spent six weeks in a North Korean hospital shortly before his release.
Bae has said he is recovering.
“It’s been an amazing two years. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I lost a lot of weight,” he said at the military base. “I’m recovering at this time.”
Prayer has been crucial to Bae’s survival, Chung’s pastor wrote on Facebook.
“Prayer sustained Kenneth Bae in a North Korean labor camp for 765 days. After he came home, we prayed,” Cho wrote. “I want to sincerely thank all of you — near and far — for praying for his freedom. Let’s remember to lift up the 24.5 million North Koreans that are living under the captivity of a brutal regime. Lord, let your light shine forth in North Korea.”
Bae still has not seen his wife, who lives in China, nor his children, who live elsewhere in the U.S., but the family is planning a Thanksgiving reunion, Chung said.
Bae was serving a 15-year prison term of hard labor, accused of “hostile acts to bring down” the North Korean government. He had been arrested in 2012 as he led a tour group in one of North Korea’s special economic zones for foreign investors.
The North Korean government released Bae and prisoner Matthew Todd Miller, who was serving a six-year sentence on charges of espionage after he reportedly shred his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport in April and demanded asylum. In October, North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who had been held for six months. Fowle had left a Bible in a nightclub with the hope that it would reach the underground Christian community there, according to news reports.
North Korea has given no reason for the prisoners’ release. Meanwhile, other Christians remain imprisoned for their faith.
In Iran, American pastor Saeed Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence imposed Jan. 27, 2013, on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier. He had been under house arrest since July, 2012, and imprisoned since Sept. 26, 2012. He has faced death threats and beatings in prison and has received inadequate medical care.
His wife Naghmeh, in Boise, Idaho with their two children, has advocated extensively for his release.
“Praise God for the two Americans who have been released from North Korean prison!” she wrote on Facebook Nov. 8. “Praying that Saeed is next!”
Abedini’s mother and two of his siblings have fled death threats in Iran and are planning to travel to the U.S., Naghmeh wrote on Facebook.
“Saeed’s mum has been under constant threat and intimidation by the Iranian government as she has been following up on Saeed’s case … and now she is forced to leave Iran because of it and threat of being arrest,” Naghmeh posted. “The government (magistrate) has now said that clemency is no longer an option and they will not allow Saeed to be treated at the hospital.”