Here’s a new article in Christianity Today, entitled Costly Commitment, about the Korean Christian hostages in Afghanistan. The tagline reads: “In wake of abductions, Korean Christians take heavy criticism.” The author through a connection and this blog called to interview me for over 3o minutes. It’s always frustrating when you feel like you’ve conveyed a much bigger picture and when you read the article, you feel reduced to a sentence or two. It’s possible for a reader to come away thinking that I’m critical of this group when the opposite is the case. I have sought to provide support and context behind their cause. I admire them very much.
So, let me take this opportunity to expound on my thoughts for those who are interested. First, here’s a snippet of the article:
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. [read full article]
1. The more I learn about this group of people, the more I am amazed by them. They are ordinary people – like you and me – but they are also heroes. These are young men and women – most in their 20s and 3os, who didn’t have to go to Afghanistan. They chose to sacrifice their time and money; they chose to share their talents and resources; and they chose to go because of their faith in Christ. As one of the family members of the hostages stated:
“Some say going to Afghanistan is reckless, but she went there because no one goes there to help.”
2. Christians are called to teach and preach the gospel – locally and globally. The past [and current] mistakes of the Church – lack of sensitivity, cultural imperialism, lack of contextual and incarnational understanding, and others – have been documented. For this group [to our knowledge], I very much appreciate that their sole agenda was NOT to coerce, manipulate, or force their belief system unto the people of Afghanistan. While it is VERY clear that they were Christians, it’s also very clear that their “mission” was to demonstrate the Gospel through care and compassion.
People are making the mistake of assuming that this hostage situation took place BECAUSE of these Korean Christians. They have suddenly become culprits and ceased to be the victims of a human rights violation.
3. Contrary to what critics initially stated or speculated, this group was prepared. Clearly, not perfectly prepared but they were prepared. They were traveling to Afghanistan because Saemmul Church had built a hospital in Afghanistan to provide care for the people of Afghanistan. This was not a shallow short term vacation. This group was going to continue to support the substantive investment this church had made through the hospital and through long term missionaries. In addition, the senior pastor of the church stated that the group – like other groups that the church sends out – had undergone training for six months in preparation for this trip.
Koreans have criticized this group. Others around the world have criticized this group. Even other Christians have criticized this group. While there might be aspects about this relief aid trip that can be criticized, people are missing the bigger picture. Here’s a group of people that through prayer, faith in Christ, and conviction have chosen to give of their lives to be a blessing to others – in the name of Christ.
That – for me – is a beautiful portrait of the gospel.