Some 100 pastors gathered in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday for a penitence prayer meeting in response to worldwide criticism of Korean churches’ aggressive overseas missionary work.
Pastors from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church met at Youngdong Presbyterian Church in Jongno, downtown Seoul, to reflect on mission works in light of the abduction of 23 Korean church volunteers nearly two months ago in Afghanistan.
“Local churches have been passionate only about quantity increase in the number of church-goers and missionary workers they send overseas and big events that they hold, neglecting their original mission,” Kim Hyung-tae, head pastor of the Youngdong church, said according to The Korea Times.
Kim also criticized the popular belief held by many pastors that “excessively passionate” activities in dangerous places are an achievement. South Korea, despite its small size, is the world’s second highest missionary sending country behind the United States.
In July, 23 South Korean aid volunteers from Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, just south of Seoul, were kidnapped by the Taliban while on their way to provide free medical services to poor Afghans. The Christian workers were criticized for being ill-prepared for dangers in Afghanistan, ignoring the Korean government’s warning against travel to the country, and forcing the Korean government to negotiate with terrorists, which has drawn international criticism.
Other pastors at the meeting agreed that Korean churches tended to be rash in their effort to try to expand their influence without taking the proper steps to understand the culture of the mission field and local situation.
In addition, six progressive church groups issued a statement Tuesday calling for changes in overseas mission work by local churches.
“We regret that Christians did not follow the government’s regulations and caused the nation a lot of trouble,” the statement read, according to The Korea Times. “We now promise to comply with the guidelines of the government in the future.”
As part of the deal to free the hostages, the Korean government had promised the Taliban that it will block all Korean missionary activities from entering Afghanistan as well as pull out its 210 troops from the war-torn country by the end of the year.
“The kidnapping case can give the wrong impression that Korean churches are all anti-social and anti-government,” said Kim Gyu-ho, director of Christians for Social Responsibility. “We all should reflect on the aggressive missionary work overseas.”
The six groups that issued Tuesday’s statement include Christians for Social Responsibility, the Christian Coalition for Upgrading Korea, Small Church Movement and God’s Kingdom Mission Movement.
The statement also recommended that the local churches pay for all the expenses incurred for the release of the 21 hostages that lived through the ordeal.