There is an irony in the story of South Korean missionaries taken hostage by the Taliban. Dr. Leroy Huizenga sent us a note about this CNN story on the Taliban’s statement that the hostages will be released. Here’s the key section:
Under the terms of the agreement, South Korea agreed to stick by its previous decision to withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan, which work mostly in an engineering and medical capacity.
In addition, Seoul will halt all Christian missionary work in Afghanistan.
Dr. Huizenga is wondering why the issue of the South Korean government controlling the actions of the missionaries isn’t receiving more scrutiny.
Does the South Korean government sponsor missionaries? I don’t think so. Does the government have much power over South Koreans going out to do missionary work around the world? … I’d like to know how the government would live up to that end of the bargain.
Buried in a New York Times report is this:
South Korean church groups said Wednesday that they would abide by their government’s pledge that they would stop working in Afghanistan. They also said the kidnappings had led them to review their evangelical zeal.
About 17,000 full-time South Korean missionaries, as well as numerous volunteers on short-term aid missions, operate in more than 160 countries, some of them predominantly Muslim. That number is second only to the estimated 46,000 American missionaries.
“Through this incident, we will look back on the Korean churches’ overseas aid and missionary work and take this as an opportunity to make our work more effective and safer,” the Rev. Kwon Oh-sung, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea, said in a statement.
This is all well and good, but we’re still not told how the South Korean government was able to convince the churches to reconsider their missionary work. (For some background on South Korean missionaries and some hints on why the churches may be reconsidering, see this post.)
Here’s the irony: While the South Korean government and its church groups are all reconsidering the nature of missionary work, the church that sent out the hostages still holds that the hostages were doing aid work, not evangelizing. Why isn’t South Korean reconsidering its aid work? Here’s the Times:
The Saemmul Presbyterian Church, to which the hostages belong, said its volunteers were providing aid, not spreading the Gospel.
What compelled the government and the church council to concede that the hostages were proselytizing?
Is the church lying? Is there any way to determine whether the missionaries were engaged purely in aid work and not evangelizing? Rather than simply mentioning the difference between the sending church and everybody else (hostage-takers, government and church groups), maybe reporters should be more explicit about the disagreement because it seems to be a pretty key element of the whole hostage situation.