Story highlights

Canadian pastor is reported missing by his family after a trip to North Korea

Hyeon Soo Lim, 60, speaks Korean fluently and has visited North Korea numerous times

Tour groups: North Korea is easing its Ebola policy

Hong Kong CNN  — 

A Canadian pastor, who went to North Korea on a humanitarian trip in late January, is being held in the reclusive Communist state, his family said early Thursday.

Lim, 60, went to North Korea on a humanitarian trip as he had done over a hundred times before, said Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for his church, based in Mississauga, Ontario.

On January 30, Lim traveled to North Korea from China with a companion from the church who last spoke with him the following day.

Lim was scheduled to return February 4 from what was described as a “routine” trip to Rajin, in northeastern North Korea, where his church supports a nursery, orphanage and nursing home, according to the Light Korean Presbyterian Church.

So far he has failed to show.

The church has formally requested help in finding Lim from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, and has contacted the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which provides consular help for citizens of the United States, Canada and Australia, which do not have diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Ebola ban on tourists in North Korea

After not hearing from Lim, Pak said they thought he could have been caught up in North Korea’s recent Ebola policy. Lim’s church and family waited the 21-day incubation period that he would have been under quarantine.

The Rev. Hyeon Soo Lim, 60, has gone missing in North Korea, his church says.

In October, North Korea announced it was taking “preventive measures” to “control the infection by Ebola.” Tour groups to North Korea announced that the country would restrict its borders to international tourists because of concerns about Ebola.

This week, tour groups indicated that North Korea may be easing its Ebola policy. Tour operators, including Koryo Tours, Young Pioneers Tours and Uri Tours, announced on their websites that the country would ease its ban on foreign tourists.

Nick Bonner, Koryo Tour’s co-founder and director, told CNN on Tuesday, “We’re pleased to announce that today marks the first time in more than four months that tourism in North Korea begins to resume as normal.”

Lim’s visits to North Korea

Lim’s family released a statement, thanking the Canadian government for its efforts to find the pastor and asking for privacy.

In 1986, Lim immigrated to Canada from South Korea with his wife and son. He speaks fluent Korean and leads a 3,000-member church.

Pak, the church’s spokeswoman, said she doesn’t believe Lim would have engaged in any type of proselytizing, which is prohibited in North Korea.

“He knows the language, he knows the nature of the government, so we don’t see that as a legitimate reason that he would be detained,” she said. “We don’t believe that’s the way he would have behaved. He’s very wise about that.”

Previously, North Korea has detained Westerners on religious grounds.

Cases include American Kenneth Bae, who was detained for two years after North Korea accused him of trying to bring down the government through religious activities. Bae was released in November.

Another American, Jeffrey Fowle, was arrested after leaving a Bible at a club in North Korea and released after five months in detention.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a U.S. citizen sentenced to eight years of hard labor and believed to be a Christian activist, was released from North Korea in 2010 after a visit to Pyongyang by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

CNN’s KJ Kwon contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.