By Suki Kim
The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 25, 2007; Page A15
The Taliban‘s abduction of 23 South Korean Christian missionaries in Afghanistan last Thursday has put South Korea‘s evangelical fervor under a microscope. Despite its long-standing shamanist, Buddhist and Confucian roots, South Korea has about 12,000 missionaries in 173 countries, second only to the United States. Today, almost half of South Korea’s population is Christian. I remember looking through the window of our fifth-floor apartment in Seoul as a child and finding the night sky peppered with bright-red neon crosses. When I moved to America in my teens, the first faces to greet me were those of the Korean American evangelical Christians at John F. Kennedy International Airport, eagerly awaiting new arrivals with Bibles and taped sermons.
The hostages, members of Saemmul Church from Bundang, near Seoul, appear to have been somewhat naive. They were traveling from Kabul to Kandahar on one of the most dangerous routes in Afghanistan. They rode a charter bus often used by foreigners, immediately attracting attention, and they did not alert local police to their presence for fear of being questioned about their identity papers, the bus driver has said. Photos of some of the missionaries, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, have surfaced on the Internet; they are seen giddily posing in front of the government sign at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport warning about the dangers of travel to Afghanistan.