Three U.S. citizens who have been imprisoned in North Korea, including a pastor connected to a Los Angeles church, were on their way home to the United States Wednesday in what is being viewed as a key diplomatic victory for the Trump administration.
Kim Hak-song is an ordained evangelical Christian pastor affiliated with Oriental Mission Church in Los Angeles’ Koreatown area. He is a native of China but a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was detained May 7, 2017, while teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
Hak-song and the other two detainees, Kim Dong-chul and 59-year-old Tony Kim, also known as Kim San-duk, are on their way back to the United States, with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence expected to greet them at 2 a.m. Eastern time when they arrive at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
In a statement to ABC7, officials with the Oriental Mission Church said they were grateful for Hak-song’s safe return.
“Missionary Kim was in charge of the agricultural technology dissemination and ministry through the experimental farm at the Pyongyang Science and Technology University,” according to the statement. “He was devoted to ministry. He was captured trying to return to his home in Dandong, China, in May last year. … Now, we are grateful for the safe return home to his loved ones.”
Another of the detainees, Tony Kim, earned a master’s degree from UC Riverside in 1990 and has family in Riverside. He was detained at Pyongyang airport on April 22, 2017, for alleged “criminal acts of hostility” aimed at overturning the North Korean government. He had also been teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
His family has been waging a social media campaign to continue pushing for the release of Kim and the two other detainees. The family issued a statement Wednesday hailing their release.
“We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees,” according to the family. “We want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home. We also want to thank the president for engaging directly with North Korea. Mostly, we thank God for Tony’s safe return.
“We appreciate all of the support and prayers of friends and even strangers during this challenging year. You are dear to our hearts. We ask that you continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held. Thank you.”
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