Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thinking Through the Price for the Release of the Korean Hostages

In today's Persecution and Prayer Alert (VOMC's weekly email news service), I made the following statement concerning South Korea's decision to prevent missionary work in Afghanistan:

"Ultimately, it seems that the only real concession that the South Korean government was prepared to publicly make (to the Taliban) was the religious freedom of its own citizens. Make no mistake, this decision to withdraw missionaries from Afghanistan and to prevent others from going there is a violation of religious freedom. It is telling Korean Christians, 'You can obey Christ's commission but not in Afghanistan.' This no government has the right to do, even in the name of protecting their citizens. We are also concerned that this concession by the South Korean government could further endanger the safety of Christian missionaries of all nationalities in other countries like Afghanistan where Christianity is viewed with hostility. Religiously motivated militants may conclude, having seen the Taliban successfully drive out South Korean missionaries in this manner, that kidnapping missionaries in the hopes of negotiating similar concessions by other governments concerned over the safety of its citizens is a legitimate and potentially successful strategy.

The Voice of the Martyrs urges governments to refrain, even with the best intentions, from interfering in rights of its citizens to carry out their faith even in dangerous environments and we urge Christians in free nations to recognize that there are risks in taking the gospel to many parts of the world and to accept the consequences of their obedience. This is biblical Christianity at work and we should not be surprised by it. God does not lead us only to safe places."

In an interview with Mission Network News (to be aired tomorrow), I make similar comments that this action on the part of the government in Seoul is an action that no government has the right to make and I am disappointed to read reports that South Korean church groups have already agreed to abide by it. Some family members of the kdnapped have apologized to the Korean people for the inconvenience that their relatives caused by going to Afghanistan. Korean mission leaders are suggesting that this incident may mark a "maturing" by the Korean missions movement. Perhaps, but not, in my opinion, if Koreans start to emulate the practice of many western missions groups who refuse to go where their governments say it is too dangerous and who flee countries whenever things get potentially hazardous.

Some will say to me, "Oh, it is so easy for you to point your finger and criticize. What if it was your family, your church, your friends?" Don't think for a minute that I don't think about this but I keep coming back to two things: 1) the example and testimony of today's persecuted believers around the world, many of whom refuse to be silent about their faith even if it means abuse, torture, imprisonment and even death, and 2) the teaching of scriptures. My study of the biblical teaching of persecution and discipleship is the framework for why I believe what I believe about these things. It comes down to this: what is more important, safety or obediece, my life or that of others, love or fear?

Of course, I am glad that my South Korean brothers and sisters have been released. I mourn and am enraged by the killing of two of them. But I think that the South Korean government made serious errors in judgment in how they secured their release and I can only wish that there will more reflection by Korean Christians on the ramifications of this particular concession once the rejoicing is over and their loved ones are safely home again.


Anonymous said...

Well articulated. Thank you for addressing this.

Anonymous said...

Members of the church were aware the South Korean government forbid travel to Afghanistan.

They went anyway. In your eyes that's a good thing.

We don't know if ransom was paid, going into an election the SK government is not going to say.

Finally the Sk government has told the church they will pay expenses.

That will be the deterrent, not what government travel advisories.

Money. Since the expenses of 40 some days of 23 being hostages, and two being murdered, a top official in the SK government involved, and Korean Muslims, this church has a very very hefty economic price to pay.

Koreans go to over 145 countries. The rest of us stay out of war zones because we see the wisdom of the government advisory - SK Christians may be learning that lesson also.

There is a world of hurt out there, they can serve all they need to.

The Taliban statement was up at Al Jazeera English and Afghan Islam Press before the final few were released. This is no surprise, any more than they completely mean what they say.

Thanks for writing this.

Bene D

Michelle said...

This is a really thoughtful and good post. There is always a price to pay when carrying out the great commission. As Christians we need to evaluate and understand the risks of going and also be ready to listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives over anything else.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late adding to the discussion but came across your blog and wanted to contribute. You took the words right out of my mouth. I myself have been serving in Afghanistan (am on homeleave right now) and have S. Korean teammates that had to leave. Many people at home told me how glad they were the situation has been resolved, but I fear it hasn't. For the South Koreans in that group it has, for others it will change life drastically. For some it stripped their passion and livelihood out of their hands. There are a great deal of S. Korean's newly returned home now asking, "God, what happened? What now?" For those of us "on the ground" there is an uncertainty of what the future may hold for known Christians in the country (there always is but now the awareness of it is heightened).

God never called us to "Go into all the [safe parts] of the world." There is a cost. Persecution may come. Lives may be lost. Is the Gospel worth it? I would say yes and hope that others would join in with me.

Wherever people stand on their opinions about the US not bargaining with terrorists(and I know that it has political motivations more than religious ones), as one who may be directly affected by that stance, I have to say I would hate to be a bargaining chip that determined the future of the Gospel going to a nation in desperate need of it. I support the US's stance and yet say that with a strong awareness of the implications of this stance!

May we be seeing the nations through the eyes of God, not merely our own.

Glenn Penner said...

Better late than never, and your comments were significant. Thank you