U.S. Christian missionary Kenneth Bae has thanked all of the people who prayed for him during his two year imprisonment at a North Korean labor camp, and "still has a tremendous heart" and "bears no ill will" toward the closed country.
The Pyongyang government unexpectedly freed Bae, 46, and Matthew Todd Miller, 25, on Saturday morning after a top-secret mission undertaken by James Clapper, President Barack Obama's director of national intelligence, CNN reports.
On Sunday, Bae acknowledged that "thousands of people were praying" for him at a news conference at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to The Seattle Times.
"I just want to say thank you all for supporting me and lifting me up and not forgetting," Bae said, joking that he has lost a lot of weight "in a good way" but "I'm standing strong because of you."
He also thanked President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department as well as the North Korean government for "letting me go home."
"Thank you for all your support and prayer and love," he said. "It's really been encouraging for me and for others," he added, describing his time in the prison in North Korea as an "amazing two years."
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, also spoke to reporters Sunday outside her Seattle church, according to The Associated Press.
"He still has a tremendous heart for North Korea," she said. "He has only the best wishes and intentions for that country."
Chung said her brother was in "better shape" than his family expected, and that Bae had been in the hospital in North Korea for about six weeks before his release.
Bae had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after he was accused of preaching against and trying to overthrow the secretive government while leading tours in the country. While detained in North Korea, Bae was held at a labor camp, where he was moved from a hospital in January amid grave concerns about his health. Bae, who was arrested in the city of Rajin on Nov. 3, 2012, was the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea since the end of the war in 1953.
North Korea has been a brutal dictatorship, ruled by one party, the Korea Worker's Party, and led by one family, the Kims, since its formation in 1948. Currently, there are at least 100,000 Christians in North Korea's harsh prison camps, where prisoners face torture, forced labor and possible execution.