Saturday, 29 August 2009

Korean Missionaries and the Afghan War

Proselytization by Christian evangelicals finds its way into the Singapore media from time to time. The general public normally complains about them. Sometimes the government even prosecutes the zealots for crossing a red line.
South Korea is different. Churches in that country seem to indulge in a 'dare game' with each other over the most dangerous places they can go and do good deeds.
There are an estimated 19,000 South Korean missionaries guided by Church leaders into countries like Yemen, Jordan, and Turkey (among others). Until 2007, busloads were traversing the roads of Afghanistan as well.
I really don't believe that Muslims ever seriously contemplate giving up their religion. It makes no difference whether they practice (e.g. pray, fast) or not. It's just one of those things.
Jews will understand what I am saying. If someone is born a Jew then I am almost certain they will die a Jew and be given a Jewish burial. This holds true even if they are named Bernie Madoff.
Of course there are exceptions and some Muslims do leave the faith. However, these are the exceptions which prove the rule.
Maybe it's part of the 'Islamic' socialization process and the obvious exposure to religious beliefs and rituals from birth.
The first thing a Muslim baby hears (yes, after they have been all cleaned up) is the 'Azan' or call to prayer. Not surprisingly, the Azan features prominently in the final rites of a Muslim.
It generally does not matter how pious the 'Good Muslim' is in-between the First and Last prayer. S/he will be buried as a Muslim and get all the 'privileges' due a Muslim soul.
Now, back to the subject of the 19,000 person South Korean Missionary Christian Army (let's call it the SKMCA). Like any army, the SKMCA must pick and choose its battles carefully. The privates will follow the generals anywhere – they are on a holy mission.
Afghans - a Muslim people ripe for conversion?
When a busload of SKCA troops was captured by the Afghan Taliban in August 2007 it demonstrated the complete and utter incompetence of the SKMCA generals and leadership structure.
One can only speculate about the mission briefing in the days prior to the departure of the SKMCA Afghanistan contingent.
'We are travelling to Afghanistan next week. The Afghan people are weak in their existing faith. They are ripe for conversion.
Don't worry about the Taliban insurgency. We will be perfectly safe there – God will protect us.
The landscape of the country is amazing. In order not to block our views of the scenery, our bus will not be guarded or escorted while we travel the most dangerous stretch of highway in the country (maybe the world), from Kandahar to Kabul.
That NATO soldiers and foreign diplomats only travel on the Kabul-Kandahar highway in armed convoys is irrelevant. They are there to wage war. We are there to spread love.'
A 42 year old pastor and a 29 year old IT professional were killed during the ordeal. It is believed that the South Korean government paid a ransom of between USD 2 – 30 million to secure the release of the remaining 19 hostages.
As an additional sweetener, the 200 South Korean troops based in Afghanistan were to be withdrawn by the end of 2007. Of course, the withdrawal was already planned prior to the kidnapping.
The Church leading the mission should be tried for wilful negligence leading to double murder.
The South Korean government should be investigated to determine whether it funded terrorism by payment of a ransom. Any such payment, if made, violates the stipulations of international accords such as the Financial Action Task Force Against Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing.
Any South Korean payment was certainly used to finance the Taliban infrastructure.  In other words, the money was employed to kill NATO / Afghan soldiers and civilians as well as spread extremist Islamic ideology in the region.

That the South Korean government is finally contemplating regulating the activity of the SKMCA is welcome. It may be too late for those who lost their lives in Afghanistan but it might just temper the future folly of some Church leaders.
The SKMCA is not going to win many battles in countries like Jordan, Turkey, or Yemen. It will be better advised to refocus its efforts among more receptive populations.


  1. I thank you for your balanced post and for not going on a diatribe on why Christians should not evangelise, full stop.

    I followed the South Korean case when it happened. My assessment is that they lacked the cross-cultural exposure. Korea, after all, is a largely homogeneous country. Had they been a little wiser, they would have known they were much better off 'living' their faith (ie, work for genuine aid organisations) in a country like Afghanistan rather than 'preaching' it.

  2. Hi Gerald,

    Thank you for your kind words and, of course, for taking the time to read and comment on my post.

    Yes, working in an aid organization in the country will have made a difference. While it may not have lead to people converting, it may have changed Afghani perceptions about Christians and Christianity in a positive way.

    We all live and we learn and it is just sad that the price paid in this case was of two innocent lives.

    Kind regards,


  3. You're right Imran about Muslims or jews won't change religions just like that but as you pointed out there are exceptions and one of the most common exception I find is...when a partner of a different religion in involved. And its usually the girl who converts the guy...

  4. Hi Melvin,

    Good to hear from you again. Yes, love has a strange way of justifying almost anything. In my family, there are several instances of (non-Muslim) men (nominally) converting to Islam (half-Muslims again!) to marry Muslim girls. I know there is a more unusual case (Muslim male accepting Christianity) that you can also cite.

    Separately, Malay tradition (not Islamic religious principles) tends to regard inter-religious marriages as un-Islamic. In my opinion, and despite my site's grandiose title I am no Mufti, the Koran is very clear about Muslim males marrying women who are 'ahl-e-kitab' or 'people of the book.'

    In other words, if a Muslim male wishes to marry a female Christian or Jew (religions which believe in the unity of God) that is permissible under Islamic law. The woman does NOT need to give up her Christian or Jewish beliefs. (Now the issue of kids is possibly a ticking time bomb but that is a separate matter.)

    There are several Malay traditions which seem to predate Islam and are widely practiced here in the belief that they are religiously sanctioned. I will be writing about two of these practices (female circumcision and the burying of the placenta) in more detail later.

    Thanks again for taking the time to visit and comment. I look forward to seeing more of your comments in the future.

    Kind regards,