By BosNewsLife Americas Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
WASHINGTON, USA (BosNewsLife)– The last two Americans held captive by North Korea have returned home and one of them, Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, thanked those who supported him with prayers and
Bae and Matthew Miller were greeted by hugs from family when they landed at a Washington state military base late Saturday, November 8.
“I just want to say thank you all for supporting me and standing by me,” Bae told reporters at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord military airfield.
“It’s been an amazing two years, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight.”
His family has said the 45-year-old Christian suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain, after being held in prison camp conditions.
Bae thanked the North Korean government for releasing him, as well as U.S. President Barack Obama.
“It’s a wonderful day for them and their families,” Obama later said in separate remarks. “Obviously we are
very grateful for their safe return. And I appreciate [National Intelligence] Director [James] Clapper doing a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission.”
Clapper reportedly spent roughly a day on the ground and met with North Korean security officials — but not with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after Obama approved the mission last week.
U.S. officials said Miller of Bakersfield, California, and Bae of Lynnwood, Washington, flew back with Clapper, the highest-ranking American to visit Pyongyang in more than a decade.
Members of Bae’s family, who live near the sprawling military base south of Seattle, met him when he landed. His mother hugged him after he got off the plane.
Miller stepped off the U.S. government aircraft a short time later and was also greeted with hugs
Analysts said the decision by North Korea to free Bae and Miller from long prison terms seemed an effort by the reclusive Communist state to ease pressure over its human rights record.
A recent United Nations report documented rape, torture, executions and forced labor in the North’s network of prison camps, accusing the government of “widespread, systematic and gross” human rights violations.
At least tens of thousands of Christians are believed to be among those being held in prison camps across the nation.
Terri Chung, Bae’s sister who led advocacy efforts on behalf of him, said earlier that “Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home.”
She added that her family had been “waiting for and praying for this day for two years.” Chung cautioned that this ordeal “has been excruciating for the family” but added, “we are filled with joy right now.”
She thanked the U.S. and North Korean governments as well as the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang which had been a strong “advocate for Kenneth during his prolonged imprisonment.”
Bae, a Korean-American missionary who was leading a tour group in North Korea, was detained two years ago and accused of crimes against the state. His family said Bae had been sentenced to 15-years in a labor camp due to his Christian faith.
“Our family could not have been sustained without the knowledge that Kenneth was in God’s care, when it seemed we were helpless to do anything,” Chung added.
Fellow prisoner Todd, 24, was detained in April after he tore his tourist visa to pieces and shouted that he had come “to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter,” North Korea said at the time.
November 3, 2014 marked two years that Bae had been imprisoned in North Korea. Matthew Todd Miller had
been held for seven months.
“At more than 730 days, Bae’s imprisonment was the longest on record for an American citizen in North Korea, a country widely recognized to be among the world’s most repressive places for Christians,” noted advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC).
Christians often suffer as North Korea’s Stalinist system is based on total devotion of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, observers who recently visited the country said.
The ideology largely resembles a religion or cult, and refugees’ accounts say those who oppose it are dealt with severely, often ending up in prison camps.
Despite the risks there are believed to be between 200,000 and 400,000 underground Christians inside North Korea, according to Open Doors, an advocacy and aid group supporting persecuted believers in the country and around the world.