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South Korea's missions movement received a growing amount of criticism after a group of 23 church volunteers were abducted in July while traveling in Afghanistan on a medical-aid trip.

Shortly after the group was taken hostage, several Korean newspapers published editorials questioning the Christians' decision to travel to a dangerous country. One of South Korea's widely circulated newspapers, The Chosun Ilbo, chastised Christians, saying they were taking unnecessary risks abroad.

"It is simply futile for Koreans to engage in missionary or other religious activities in a country like Afghanistan," the July 23 editorial stated. "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."

Similarly, some non-Christian Koreans are expressing critical sentiments, said Eugene Cho, a Korean who previously served on the staff of the 25,000-member Onnuri Presbyterian Church in Seoul.

"They've been really criticizing the larger evangelical church movement: 'Have they been irresponsible? Why are they going to these places? Are they prepared?'" said Cho, who now pastors Quest Church in Seattle. "Those are larger missions questions that people need to wrestle with."

Sung-Deuk Oak, a UCLA professor who studies Korean Christianity, said Koreans have long criticized "self-centered" megachurches in Seoul, because they believe the churches spend money on themselves without paying attention to social and political issues.

"Now they attack the churches' triumphalism in mission, lack of sensitivity toward other cultures and religions, and the theological fundamentalism ...

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In the Magazine

September 2007

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