SEOUL – South Korea is mourning the death of Bae Hyung-kyu, a devout Christian pastor who led the group of 22 church volunteers currently being held hostage by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Family members held a memorial service in Jeju, south of the South Korean capital Seoul, days after Bae's body was found on Wednesday with 10 bullet holes in the head, chest and stomach. Bae turned 42 that day and is survived by a wife and 9-year-old daughter.
Kim Hee-yeon, widow of the slain South Korean pastor, said at a news conference on Friday that she explained to her daughter that Dad received a huge gift from God on his birthday and returned to heaven.
A pastor for about six years, Bae was one of the founders of the 5,000-membered Saemmul Church in Bundang, just south of Seoul, and was the oldest of the group sent by the church to Afghanistan. He led services for younger members of the congregation, the vast majority of whom are under 40.
"Our pastor who was killed was a very good Christian and a very peaceful person," said Park Eun-jo, senior pastor at Saemmul Church.
Many, including his older brother Bae Shin-kyu, describe him as a generous and considerate man who liked to help others.
"He was close to many members of the church, because he was always generous enough to help with the prayers of each of the 300 members of the youth division," according to Yonhap news, which quoted an acquaintance.
Bae traveled with 22 other Koreans, 18 of whom are women, on a bus to Afghanistan despite warnings from Seoul not to go due to security concerns. They were taken hostage by Taliban insurgents last Thursday on the main road south from Kabul.
According to Saemmul Church, the group of volunteers was only there to provide medical and other aid to distressed people in the war-ravaged country and was not involved in any Christian missionary work in Afghanistan.
With 22 hostages reportedly still alive, Kim and other family members say they are praying earnestly for the remaining volunteers to return safely. Although a difficult and mournful time for Kim, she told reporters that she decided to hold a news conference out of empathy with the relatives of the 22 abductees.
Relatives of the relief workers had cried in shock, with some fainting, when initial news reports of their abduction came out. Over 700 Saemmul Church members held an overnight prayer vigil for the safe return of the volunteers.
Kim told reporters she hopes the deaths end with her husband and that no other person is victimized.
According to the latest update, a Taliban spokesman said on Friday that the 22 South Koreans are alive and that the group will not set further deadlines as it negotiates with the government for their freedom.
Contributor Kim Kun-hye in Seoul contributed to this report.