Back to News
August 4, 2007
Living by faith, not by sight, is an impossible task to explain when your choices have led to an international crisis. The fate of 23 young Koreans captured by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will tax every lesson the Christian church has to teach about a profession that has always been a mystery.
I suspect even the Apostle Paul, the earliest missionary of the Christian gospel, would shrug and describe the Korean actions with a defence from his second epistle to the Corinthians: "If we are 'out of our mind,' as some say, it is for God."
Exactly what Pastor Kwon Hyuk-su and his church of 5,000 members had in mind in exporting their enthusiasm to war-ravaged Afghanistan isn't known, but as waves of grief roll over families involved, cyber attacks launched from within and without Korea are crashing against Saemmul church and give an indication that our safety-zone lives are prone to confuse just who the bad guys are here.
More than a million children in Afghanistan have been killed, disabled or orphaned due to war. The country is staggering with 40-per-cent or more unemployment and suffers horrific maternal mortality rates, with a woman dying in childbirth every half hour. It is a country desperate for hope. When 23 young professionals chose to spend their summer holidays by stuffing their backpacks with medicine and schoolbooks rather than Prada and Gucci, it was because they felt the ancient missionary call. Their job is to spread the love of God and, to paraphrase St. Francis, to do that with or without words.
The worry that the Koreans may have been planning to use words (proselytizing) on their religiously motivated mission is only part of why this naive bunch have launched an international dilemma that will forever change the way Christian activity is conducted in Afghanistan. The other reason this mission project is facing severe criticism is because public perceptions haven't kept pace with the evolution of what missionaries are involved in.
Adventures in teaching faith in God began a few thousand years ago, when Abraham was called by God to start a heritage (the Jewish nation) that would bless people everywhere, for all time. Jesus, a descendent of that line, adapted the family calling into a mission to bring peace to every geographic, socio-economic sphere of life, summing it all up in one of his favourite phrases, "the kingdom of God."
Jesus intended that everything would be affected and ordered under the touch of God, which is why Koreans, 2,000 years later, are still taking the challenge seriously. To them, even southern Afghanistan is part of the horizon to be adapted to that Kingdom of God vision. In essence, they want to move from being a bunch of blessed Koreans into being a blessing. It's why a missionary pastor such as bullet-riddled Bae Hyung-kyu would hope to place a kit of pencils into the hands of an illiterate child and consider his work worthwhile.
It really makes no international policy sense that a band of do-gooders can't live with the fact that innocent people suffer while they live in Korea in comfort.
But this is the face of the missionary in this century: They are a people equipped with unparalleled resources to stand up to evil, willing to be silent but not inactive. The problem with staying silent about the hope that motivates Christian mission is that there can be no understanding of why this religion is not, to borrow from the atheist apologist, poison.
If never examined for truth, how will we equip ourselves to face the power of ideas that can motivate activities that either love people and help them, or hurt people and oppress them?
I followed news of the Korean crisis from Internet cafes as I was being hosted by missionaries in Latvia, and was eerily aware of the conquering history of Crusades on the ground I walked. My hosts encouraged me to climb the tower of the 13th-century St. Peters Cathedral in Riga, an imposing church built after soldiers had evangelized the region, forcing baptisms at the point of the sword. Bewildered by a church history obscenely drunk with power, I walked from the tower to the Internet cafe and clicked into the 21st-century conflict between evangelical and Taliban, descendents of the same streams of religious zeal that killed in the name of God, Islam and Christianity.
God has enormous problems with followers. I'd hoped, by now, He'd have forced us to behave, but such is not the character of God. Our PR for His cause doesn't often help explain divine intent, but neither does the silencing of religious learning, debate and mission activity. It is true that missionary stories range from bizarre to beautiful, but we have to keep examining them to find out what truth is behind all the controversy. On a good day, you'll find an evolution has been under way that allows an arthritic Afghan woman to receive a bottle of Tylenol from a Korean nurse, where they exchange only the warmth of their eyes, understanding that God is trying to love them both
Back to News