Christian missionary grateful after release from North Korea

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North Korean flag. Credit: John Pavelka via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

A Southern Baptist missionary imprisoned for two years in North Korea, as well as another imprisoned American, have been released from the isolated country’s labor camps.

“Thank you all for supporting me and standing by me in this time,” Kenneth Bae said at a Nov. 8 press conference in Washington state. “It’s been an amazing blessing to see so many people being involved in getting me released.”

“It’s been an amazing two years. I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight, in a good way. But I’m standing strong because of you,” he told supporters.

Bae, 46, was arrested while leading a foreign tour group throughout the country, focused on spending money in the country to improve the lives of North Korean citizens, not proselytization.

The North Korean government accused him of using his tour business to form groups to overthrow the government, the BBC reports.

Bae was convicted of “hostile acts” against North Korea in 2012 and was sentenced to 15 years in labor camps.

He suffers from health problems including diabetes and an enlarged heart. He was hospitalized several times during his detention.

Matthew Miller, who was arrested in April 2014 on an espionage charge and sentenced to six years of hard labor, was released with Bae. Miller, a 25-year-old whom North Korean media claimed destroyed his visa and sought asylum in the country, did not make a public statement.

President Barack Obama said he was “grateful” for their return, commenting that “it's a wonderful day for them and their families.”

The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the release on Nov. 8, thanking the government of Sweden’s “tireless efforts” in securing the two men’s release.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper accompanied the men on their return to the U.S.

Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said her brother “still has a tremendous heart for North Korea” and has “only the best wishes and intentions for that country,” NBC News reports.

Another U.S. citizen held in North Korea, Jeffrey Fowle, was freed in October. He was arrested in May after reportedly leaving an English-language Bible and a Korean-language Bible in a nightclub.

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