Sunday, February 26, 2006

Christianity Today on Korean Christianity and its Missions

The Robert formerly known as "Marmot" has recently blogged on "Jesus, human rights and North Korea."

I would have put a comma after "human rights" -- but hey, I support free speech, so leave those commas out. Maybe Robert follows British conventions on nonpunctuation...

Anyway, his blog post links to a New York Times article by Norimitsu Onishi, "Campaigning for Human Rights, and Fishing for Souls," reprinted in the International Herald Tribune under a different title, "Christians lead Korea rights drive."

The article, as Robert notes, is "fairly balanced." Onishi chose the right people to accomplish this balance, such as:
... the Rev. Benjamin H. Yoon, who ran Amnesty International's South Korea office for many years before founding the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights in 1996. It is the oldest private group concerned with abuses in the North.

Mr. Yoon's group is critical of the Christian groups for linking human rights with evangelizing and the South Korean government for failing to speak out on the subject.
As Yoon implies, there's definitely some irony in the Roh administration's position:
During South Korea's military rule, proponents of democratization, including Roh Moo Hyun, now the president and a former human rights lawyer, fought for human rights and "were considered progressive and leftist," Mr. Yoon, 76, said.

"Now, because of the government's engagement policy toward the North, speaking out against human rights abuses in the North is regarded as reactionary and rightist," he said.
But what about the Christians?

Critics ... say that some Christians, while professing their commitment to human rights in the North, are actually endangering the lives of North Koreans through their evangelizing.

The Rev. Kim Tae Hyun, an official with the National Council of Churches in Korea, which supports the South Korean government's low-key approach on human rights in North Korea, criticizes missionaries who send North Koreans living in China back into the North to proselytize secretly. "They are putting the defectors at great risk," Mr. Kim said.

Durihana, a South Korean missionary group that is also increasing its lobbying in the United States, engages in the practice.

"We don't force them to go back," said Chun Ki Won, 50, Durihana's director. "We send only volunteers."

Volunteers. Hmmm ... well, anyone who's been around Korean churches understands what that means. Korean Christianity reflects Korean society -- hierarchical and Confucian. If the 'seniors' favor evangelism, the 'juniors' will volunteer.

But I don't doubt the genuine fervor of South Korean Christians. Some recent articles in Christianity Today focus on the growth of Christianity in Korea and the huge role that Korean churches are playing in foreign missions. Korea currently has more missionaries abroad than any other country except the United States. According to the main article, Rob Moll's "Missions Incredible":
Today, almost 13,000 South Koreans are serving as longterm missionaries in countries around the world.
And the Korean missions movement does send missionaries into dangerous situations:

On May 30, 2004, terrorists in Iraq linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi kidnapped Kim Sun Il, a Korean interpreter. The South Korean native had been working for a year with a South Korean firm that supplied goods to the U.S. Army, an opportunity Kim used as a means of gaining entrance into the country.

Like many Korean missionaries, he was highly educated, holding undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, theology, and Arabic. He was also willing to undertake the dangerous task of working in a war zone.

Kim had a passion for mission work among unreached peoples. Mission experts estimate that 1.8 billion individuals in thousands of ethnic groups remain unexposed to the gospel. South Korean missionaries, in particular, are pioneering projects and methods to spread the gospel in these areas. Korea sends 34 percent of its missionaries to unreached peoples; the international average is around 10 percent.

During Kim's captivity, Zarqawi threatened to kill him unless South Korea scrapped its plan to send 3,000 troops to join the U.S.-led coalition that had toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. The kidnapping took the South Korean government by surprise, and it frantically tried to rescue the captured translator. It also took Westerners by surprise, as the little-known Korean missionary movement was given a face on television screens around the world. Terrorists released video footage of Kim pleading for his life. On June 22, his beheaded body was recovered outside of Baghdad.

Those of us here in Korea recall this atrocity very, very clearly, for not only did it shock all of us, it resulted in very broad censorship of the internet in Korea as the government pressured Korean internet servers into blocking access to entire domains on the internet to prevent Koreans from viewing the online video of Kim Sun Il's beheading, leaving many of us unable to access ordinary blogs that had nothing to do with the video.

I didn't watch the video, having had no desire to see a man have his head slowly sawn off, but I do recall seeing news clips on South Korean television of Kim Sun Il crying and wanting to return to Korea, so he seems to have had second thoughts about his mission call if it included a call to martyrdom.

I'm not criticizing Kim Sun Il. I doubt that I would hold up very well under the merciless hands of Islamist snuff-film directors.

Korea's Christians, however, despite seeing the potential cost of discipleship so unforgetably displayed before their very eyes, remain unfazed. They intend to send 100,000 missionaries to the Middle East ... with the help of Chinese Christians:
Many Korean missionaries work in China, where they help train house-church leaders. David Lee, who has also served as chair of the World Evangelical Alliance mission commission, sees a big role for Korean missionaries in getting Chinese missionaries involved in Korea's Back to Jerusalem project, which aims to send 100,000 missionaries to the Middle East. "If we can somehow assist them in terms of a more modern way of thinking and coping and understanding context and crosscultural communication," he says, "I think they would have a greater survival rate."
Surviving will be a problem since evangelizing Muslims is considered a capital offense in sharia, the traditional Islamic law. So is conversion from Islam to Christianity, which partly accounts for the lack of success that most Western Christian missionaries have had in Muslim countries.

Korean missionaries hope to do better. Anyone interested in this story should read the article, which also has many links to various other articles on mission work being done by Koreans and other Asians. Just click on the article link, scroll down, and keep on scrolling...


At 2:08 AM, Blogger Scottage said...

Hey JHJ,

I wanted you to know I took down that photo. However, I think that it's pretty ridiculous, and wanted to say why.

According to technorati this morning, over 30,000 sites had stories about this girl. And everyone ran a photo, almost all the photo I was asked to take down yesterday. So I replaced it with a photo from the front page of Tamil Murasu, because I have been told that every post should have a picture. This is the front page of the Singapore newspaper we're talking about!

What should I have done, puta picture of a barnyard animal in it's place? Put a map of the country? I don't get why anyone would be so sensative about a picture of a fully clothed woman that has been on the front page of the leading paper from the country.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

FYI: The Associated Press and NYT both omit the serial comma in their style sheets last time I checked. The Chicago Manual of Style, however, does not.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jessica, thanks. I know that some American newspapers follow the British style. So do some here in Korea.

I was humorously (I hoped) calling attention to Robert's 'missing' comma (rather than a newspaper's), but not as a real criticism. In fact, way back in grade school, I learned to leave that comma out.

In graduate school, however, I learned to put the comma back in to clarify sequences such as "orange juice, toast, eggs and bacon, and cereal."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I went to school we used the comma (and I still do), but at many U.S. colleges and universities it is now optional - they just don't seem to care.

Some Koreans may become missionaries at the behest of seniors, but probably more for short-term mission trips. My wife and several friends were missionaries for 1-2 years and they went all over Asia and the Pacific. Those are some truly dedicated people.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Richardson, thanks for the comment.

My impression is that Korean churches are generally very hierarchical, with the minister controlling everything ... or trying to. I think that a lot of pressure gets applied to church members to 'volunteer' for church outreach.

I say this from having attended several Korean churches and talking with my wife about them. Also, at one Korean church's English service where we attended for a couple of years, I met a lot of Americans married to Koreans, and we had much the same impression, namely, that Korean churches are very hierarchical and that's there not the sort of voluntarism that one sees in American churches.

At the same time, I don't doubt the fervor of Korean Christians.

Interestingly, though, even the Christianity Today article implies that a lot of the missionary effort from Koreans is to 'compete' with the United States. Some of that fervor may be other than purely 'spiritual.'

But you're right that long-term dedication requires genuine fervor.

Jeffery Hodges

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