Missionaries in South Korea—once the world's second-largest sender of such workers—can resume work in Yemen because their government lifted a travel ban this August. But four other majority-Muslim countries remain off-limits.
South Korea banned citizen travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia in 2007, after Taliban operatives kidnapped 23 Korean missionaries in Afghanistan. The captors executed two before the missionaries were released. Travel to Yemen, Syria, and Libya was banned in 2011 (though the Libyan ban was lifted later that year).
Korean missions leaders have pushed to lift the bans, saying the government should grant greater flexibility to missionaries for their humanitarian work.
South Korea's government has been reluctant. "The duty of the government to protect its citizens is greater than the rights of a few ngos to go abroad for missionary activities," Chun Woo-seung, second secretary at the Foreign Ministry's Overseas Korean National Protection Division, told The Korea Herald.
Korea Crisis Management Service, a nonprofit launched after the 2007 kidnapping, has been editing a lengthy report on the hostage situation which will be released this fall to help churches avoid similar situations in the future, said Kim Jin-dae, its general director.
Dongsu Kim, a Korean professor of Bible and theology at Nyack College in New York, says some churches want the government to support missions work, while others want to work independently. Part of the challenge: the century-old Korean church has never navigated government-missionary relationships before, he said.
"Government learns, and churches learn, and they're on a learning curve," said Kim. "They ...