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This is the Saemmul Church, just south of Seoul. It is this Presbyterian congregation that sent 23 Christian volunteers to Afghanistan last July on short-term aid and evangelical missions. All the volunteers eventually returned home, two of them in coffins.
A 43-day abduction ordeal the group endured dragged the whole country into a state of anxiety and shock, prompting thousands to join candlelight vigils. The Saemmul Church was criticized for having a naive evangelical worldview and knowingly sending a group of mostly young, overzealous Christian believers in their 20s and 30s to an obvious danger zone.
During the hostage crisis in Afghanistan, Park Eun-jo, the founder and senior pastor of the church, was very apologetic and repeatedly said his church would no longer engage in missionary work in that country. Six months have since passed. “Things have returned to normal,” a deacon at the church said. Park is also now saying something slightly different, displaying renewed mission enthusiasm for Afghanistan. And this warrants due attentiveness.
On this last Sunday morning in February, Park isn’t here to deliver his sermon. “He is away for three weeks in the US to hold ‘Prayer Meetings for Afghanistan’,” says the deacon, who himself had planned to join the mission team to Afghanistan last year but eventually did not, due to family obligations.
The church newsletter confirms that Park is in the US, visiting churches in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco, to name a few, to seek their support and also prayers for the Afghanistan mission in which two of his church members, including the associate pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, were slain by the Taliban, the hardline Islamic militants.
In his letter to the parishioners, shown in the church newsletter, Park says: “I apologize for not being present at the church for three weeks. I am making this trip because the Lord gave me a challenge on Afghanistan.” Park continues: “When I think about the heart of God who let the two people’s blood be shed in Afghanistan, I am also inclined to think that it’s the same heart of God facing me and Saemmul Church as well as all the churches in this age. I regard serving Afghanistan as the mission task for all Christians today.”
The letter exudes an air of calmness. It is, however, more alarming than comforting because, although put in measured weasel words, the embedded determination for Afghan mission unmistakably is felt by readers.
Observers believe that although Park made apologetic gestures and toned down his evangelic tone during the hostage crisis to secure the release of the hostages, his principled stance on overseas mission hasn’t abated at all. Rather, some believe the crisis led him to be firmly convinced that there is a “meaning” behind the tragedy. After all, the tragedy wasn’t a chance event. It was God’s divine providence, the logic goes.
“Among the many [foreign] people in Afghanistan at that time, the reason that Saemmul church people became the hostages is a work of divine providence. Afghanistan is the place where our church members’ blood was shed. It’s a mission place God has designated for us. I will serve more for Afghanistan from now on,” Park said in a sermon.
The Saemmul church team wasn’t the only missionary group in Afghanistan at the time of the abduction. Five other South Korean mission groups were there in the week the abduction occurred, numbering to some 180.
Park’s sermon reached its climax when he said: “We need 3,000 more Bae Hyung-kyus in the future,” referring to one of the slain hostages, adding “our missionary zeal shouldn’t be dampened because of this incident. Rather, we should devote ourselves more passionately to the mission”.
This provocative sermon generated such repercussions and upset so many people in Korea that the government stepped in to delete the contents from the Internet completely, following a request from family members of the group that had been kidnapped. Park also said his church “plans to send more missionaries to Afghanistan once the [South Korean] government’s travel ban is ...................... (--cut--) Read more on O! News - English Version
Article taken from O! News - English Version