SOUTH KOREAN EVANGELISM IN AFGHANISTAN

South Korea’s evangelists in Afghanistan blamed for hostage crisis

23 South Korean evangelists have been kidnapped by Taliban in Afghanistan.

24 July, 2007:

The kidnapping of 23 Church volunteers of South Korea in Afghanistan has given rise to a question never raised so far – are the country’s evangelical Christian groups too zealous in sending missionaries abroad?

The kidnappers – the Taliban – have threatened to kill the hostages.

There are about 17,000 South Korean Christian missionaries overseas, the largest group after those from the United States. And, many of them are in volatile regions.

Many major dailies in South Korea have asked this question: why did the Church that sent the volunteers to Afghanistan ignore the government’s warnings about traveling to Afghanistan?

The right-leaning Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial on July 23, 2007: “Religious groups should realize once and for all that dangerous missionary and volunteer activities in Islamic countries, including Afghanistan, not only harm Korea’s national objectives but also put other Koreans under a tremendous amount of duress.”

The Saemmul Church, which sent the Koreans who were kidnapped in Afghanistan, is believed to be relatively moderate and its missions abroad have focused on volunteer medical and humanitarian work.

However, there have been accusations that many wealthy evangelical Churches in South Korea are competing to send missionaries and volunteers abroad since larger numbers are widely considered as a gauge of the strength of their beliefs.

Song Jae-ryong of Kyunghee University, in Seoul, who specialises in religious sociology, says: “I have never seen this kind of zeal elsewhere. South Korean evangelism has a strong tendency to push for what they believe in, often in disregard of the peculiarities of the places they are trying to work in.”

Critics say that while the Churches do a lot of good abroad, they can at times have a shallow view of the world.

South Korea has one of the biggest Christian populations in Asia – accounting for about 30% of the population. The religion grew in post-war South Korea, with many seeing it as a way to a better education and social standing.

A few leaders of evangelical Churches have even defied the South Korean government’s warnings as well as bans other countries place on missionary visas by unofficially sending missionaries.

The practice has drawn flak from other Churches in South Korean, since this makes it difficult for locals to distinguish between Christian volunteers doing humanitarian work and those whose primary mission is religious conversion overseas.

Afghanistan had, in August 2006, deported hundreds of visiting South Korean Christians who wanted to parade through Kabul after Islamic clerics demanded their expulsion, accusing them of trying to proselytize.

Meanwhile, the government of South Korea has announced new rules to punish unauthorised travel to Afghanistan, with possible jail terms.

In a response to the hostage crisis, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs banned South Korean nationals from traveling to war-torn Afghanistan and urged South Koreans who were already there to leave.

South Koreans can be jailed for up to one year or fined up to 3 million won ($3,631) if they visit banned countries without prior permission. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs added Afghanistan to the list, which formerly included only Iraq and Somalia.

 

 

 
         
 

 

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