South Korea Rethinks Mission Strategy

Dan Wooding | ASSIST News Service | Saturday, July 28, 2007

South Korea Rethinks Mission Strategy

SEOUL -- The kidnapping of 23 South Korean Christian hostages in Afghanistan and now the killing of one of them (as of Friday morning) by the Taliban, has “raised questions back home” over what the team was doing in such a dangerous place, says the BBC in a story.

“South Korean media has been quick to call for future trips to be more carefully planned, and even to question the merits of such missions in the first place,” wrote the BBC’s Krasimira Petrova.

“In response to the hostage crisis, South Korea's foreign ministry banned its nationals from traveling to Afghanistan and urged those already there - an estimated 200 civilians - to get out.

“The Saemmul Presbyterian Church, which sent the abducted missionaries, has been quick to comply with the request.

“It had another 42 workers in Afghanistan, doing volunteer work in Kabul and Kandahar, a the time of the kidnapping.”

'Careless approach'

Petrova went on to say, “The Saemmul Church is adamant that the hostages were on an aid, not an evangelizing, mission, providing medical services to people suffering from disease.

“But that has not stopped accusations that they embarked on a dangerous mission without adequate thought to the possible consequences.”

The story went on to say that several South Korean dailies carried editorials urging Christian groups to rethink their mission strategy in dangerous regions.

"Volunteer work is good. But in a multicultural and multi-religious age and especially in a place like Afghanistan, where there is a sharp hatred of Christianity, a deeper understanding of indigenous conditions must precede the dispatch of volunteer workers," wrote Choson Ilbo.

Many Korean citizens also question the necessity for missionaries to travel to dangerous countries.

"I am so sorry for the captives, however I think it is quite unreasonable that they went there in the first place against the Korean government's travel advisory," said BBC website user Hee Nam Lim, from Ulsan.

"I realize they had good intentions but they have become a great burden for our government and our people," he said.

Petrova then wrote, “Critics also say that missionaries can sometimes be too aggressive in their desire to spread the gospel, and show lack of understanding of local cultures.

"Yun Young Lee, who has done missionary work in Nepal and is preparing to go to Uganda next month, says that Korean missionaries often ignore local customs. Apart from the strong religious zeal, there is also a sense of nationalism behind sending missionaries abroad."

Chung-shin Park, professor of Korean church history said, “Missionary work abroad is a great thing to do, but you have to be very careful, especially in some Islamic countries.

"You shouldn't talk to people directly about their religion, in order to change their views, you have to respect their culture and beliefs."

Petrova said, “There is no evidence that the Saemmul Church was guilty of such behaviour, but South Korea is certainly known for the zeal of its missionaries, as well as the number of people it sends overseas on mission trips.

“Korean evangelical groups have dispatched about 17,000 people to 173 countries, from the Middle East and Africa through to Central and East Asia, and South Korea is the second largest source of Christian missionaries after the US.

“Thousands are working in Muslim countries, where local governments strictly ban Christian proselytizing.”

Last August, Afghanistan deported hundreds of South Koreans who were planning to hold a parade through Kabul.

In 2004, eight South Korean missionaries were kidnapped in Iraq. Later in the same year, a 33-year-old man, Kim Song Il, who had planned to do missionary work there, was taken hostage and beheaded.

South Koreans vividly remember the incident, and many even viewed the video of the execution on the internet.

Today, South Korea has the largest percentage of evangelical Christians in Asia, at about 25% of the population.

© 2007 ASSIST News Service, used with permission