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Commentary: God has a plan for Afghans, Koreans

The Rev. Jin Kook Lee and his family are saddened by the death of the Rev. Bae
Hyung-kyu who was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
A UMNS photo courtesy of Keihwan Ryoo.

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Jin Kook Lee*
Aug. 2, 2007

When I returned home July 25, I found my wife sobbing. Her tears told me that something had happened. My daughter ran and hugged me. They told me that one of the 23 Koreans being held hostage in Afghanistan had been killed by the Taliban that day. It was the Rev. Bae Hyung-kyu,  leader of the team of mission volunteers from Saem-mul (Spring Water) Church in Korea.

Many critical comments in news reports followed the capture of the volunteers: "They were so careless." "They are selfish Christians who ignored the warnings of the government." "Did they go as volunteers or as missionaries?" "Korean Christians are ignorant; they do not respect other religions. They waste their time and money for nothing." "They must be responsible for their own actions."

Those words hurt me deeply, but I do not want to argue about them. It is natural for non-Christians to criticize the volunteers. However, it hurts me more to hear criticism from people of the church. I do not think that we as followers of Christ should attempt to pinpoint what went wrong for this group. It is a time for us to pray for the hostages and their families, for the Afghan people and even for the Taliban militants. It is time to shed tears with them. It is a time to ask God’s grace and mercy on them. 

I remember the story of a missionary, the Rev. Robert Thomas, who was 26 years old when he died near Pyongyang, North Korea, 140 years ago. By some accounts, he was executed in 1866 by Korean soldiers, but before he was killed gave a Bible to his executioner, who later became a Christian.

Thomas did not do great  mission work in the eyes of people, but he gave his life for Korean Christians and churches before anybody else. We know now that because of Thomas' sacrifice, the seed of the Gospel was planted in Korea. Through his love, many Koreans, including me, became believers of Jesus Christ.

After 140 years, Korean churches and Christians have grown enough to send many missionaries into the world.

I understand the criticism of the hostages and their mission. This incident has a huge impact for missions in Afghanistan, Korea and around the world. However, as a Christian and as a Korean-American member of The United Methodist Church, I cannot criticize the hostages. We cannot.

Why did Rev. Thomas go to Korea 140 years ago? What is the Gospel? Why did he sacrifice his own life for those whom he did not know or meet? Somehow, somebody placed a great love in his heart for the people of Korea. I hope and pray that you may look at the Korean hostages in Afghanistan with the eyes of Rev. Thomas.

This is the time to stop pointing fingers at each other. We need to remember people who ran to the land where nobody wanted to go in the name of Jesus Christ. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us pray with them and for their safe return. Let us cry with their families in Korea. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.

We may not fully understand or know what has happened to Korean Christians in Afghanistan. But I know that God has a plan for the Afghan people and the Korean churches.

*Lee serves at Korean Mission United Methodist Church of Rochester, N.Y.

News media contact: Keihwan Ryoo, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5118 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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