The yet unresolved crisis involving the abduction of 23 South Koreans in Afghanistan has brought back to the spotlight the South Korean missionary strategy and raised questions whether this would put a damper on the evangelical zeal.
Taliban threatened Sunday, July 29, to kill some of the 22 South Korean missionaries if there was no progress by noon Monday on their demand for the release of eight jailed members and the withdrawal of 200 S. Korean troops from Afghanistan.
South Korean envoy Baek Jong-Chun held talks with President Hamid Karzai who assured that his government was doing what it could.
The missionaries, who are working for the Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Seoul, were kidnapped on July 19.
South Korea is known for the zeal of its missionaries, as well as the number of people it sends overseas on mission trips.
The country is believed to be the second largest source of Christian missionaries after the US, which has some 46,000 worldwide.
International media outlets, including the BBC and the New York Times, estimate that 17,000 South Korean missionaries have been dispatched to 173 countries.
Thousands of them are working in war zones and Muslim countries, where Christian proselytizing is strictly banned.
Last year, the Afghan government deported more than 1,000 South Korean Christians who came for a peace festival following a public outcry and death threats.
The New York Times had said that South Korean missionaries were taking the lead in evangelizing Muslims in Arab countries.
South Korea's Association of Protestant Churches seeks the dispatch of 100,000 missionaries by 2030.
Experts say dispatching missionaries abroad has become a cutthroat competition among South Korean churches.
"I have never seen this kind of zeal elsewhere," Song Jae-ryong of Kyunghee University, in Seoul, who specializes in religious sociology, told Reuters.
"South Korean evangelism has a strong tendency to push for what they believe in, often in disregard of the peculiarities of the places they are trying to work in."
The Afghan ordeal drew criticism for the missionary strategy from the public and the media.
Several major dailies questioned why the Saemmul church ignored the volatile situation in Afghanistan and urged Christian groups to rethink their missionary strategy in dangerous regions.
The Foreign Ministry banned nationals from traveling to Afghanistan and urged the estimated 200 already there to leave.
The Saemmul Church, which had another 42 members working in Kabul and Kandahar, was quick to comply with the request.
The zeal shown by South Korean churches for proselytizing has not been price-free.
In 2004, a South Korean missionary was beheaded in Iraq while seven others were kidnapped and later released in Baghdad.
In April of the same year, a South Korean pastor was shot dead in Kenya.
Several South Korean missionaries have served time in Chinese prisons after being accused of converting North Korean refugees.
Over the past few decades, Christianity has grown dramatically in South Korea.
Christians now constitute 26.3 percent of the 49 million population, including 19.7 percent Protestant and 6.6 percent Catholic.
Seoul, the capital, is home to eleven of the world's twelve largest Christian congregations.
Last Mod: 31 Temmuz 2007, 11:25