South Korean Christians are having second thoughts about their approach to overseas missions as they pause to reflect on the 43-day hostage situation that left two men dead. Church leaders say they will still go forward with the gospel, but with more caution and wisdom.
"Remorse is the face of the church," Park Eun-jo, senior pastor of Saemmul Church, told Christianity Today. Located in the Seoul suburb of Bundang, his Presbyterian congregation, which sponsored the trip to Afghanistan, has a weekly attendance of about 5,000 people.
Expressions of remorse were apparently not enough. Criticism of the church and the Korean missions movement, already strong during the hostage crisis, reached a fury once the hostages were freed. Park sent a letter of resignation to the church in September. Even though the church refused to accept it, Park said he was leaving Saemmul for a month to pray.
The 23 church volunteers were abducted by the Taliban in July while traveling in Afghanistan on a medical-aid trip. The South Korean government negotiated for the group's release in August, but only after the Taliban had killed two members of the group, including a Saemmul Church pastor. There is widespread speculation that a ransom as high as $20 million was paid, but the only announced terms of the deal were South Korea's agreement to ban missionary travel to Afghanistan and to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
Park, who spoke to CT before entering seclusion, wants the church to send more missionaries to Muslim countries and to Afghanistan after the ban is lifted.
"We believe that this is God's providence leading us to other Muslim countries," he said. "I don't want this to be a stumbling block for missions."
Nevertheless, there is concern that ...1