Evangelical Head Urges Prayer for 23 Korean Christian Hostages

The head of the world's largest evangelical body is calling on Christians to offer earnest prayers and for God to comfort those affected by the Taliban's abduction of 23 Korean Christians – whose life hangs in the balance as the deadline for their safety draws near.

"This is an unfortunate situation but we take comfort that God is in control so let us continue to lean on Him for this great need," said the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, the World Evangelical Alliance international director, in a statement Monday.

WEA is composed of 128 national evangelical alliances representing 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide.

"We pray that our Korean brothers, sisters and their families will experience a special nearness of God to them and find comfort in the knowledge of His power in their time of anguish," added Tunnicliffe.

A group of 23 South Korean Christians were kidnapped by the Islamic militant group Taliban on Thursday, in the largest abduction of a group of foreigners in the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

The church group was on its way to the southern city of Kandahar when their bus was hijacked by dozens of gunmen in the province of Ghazni – one of the regions in Afghanistan most affected by insurgency.

Despite some reports claiming that the group of Korean churchgoers – mostly in their 20s and 30s – was on an evangelistic mission to Afghanistan, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Saturday the Koreans were providing free medical or educational services with no missionary intentions.

"My kids went to the war-ravaged country to do volunteer work, carrying love," said Seo Jung-bae, whose son and daughter were both taken hostage, according to Reuters. "I hope [they] will return to us and the country without a single hair damaged."

As Jeremy Sewall, South Asia policy analyst for Washington-based International Christian Concern, noted in a released statement, "Under the Taliban, it is absolutely illegal to preach Christianity."

The purported Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi has demanded the South Korean government withdraw 200 troops from the country and the Afghan government to release 23 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the lives of the Koreans.

"If the government won't accept these conditions, then it's difficult for the Taliban to provide security for these hostages, to provide health facilities and food," Ahmadi told The Associated Press by satellite phone Monday. "The Taliban won't have any option but to kill the hostages."

According to reports, the 200 South Korean troops in Afghanistan are mostly working on humanitarian projects and were set to be leave at the end of the year prior to the abductions.

Both the South Korean and Afghanistan governments are in ongoing discussions and negotiations with the Taliban to secure the lives of the 23 Korean Christians before the deadline of 10:30 a.m. EDT. The insurgents have threatened to start killing the South Korean captives if their demands are not met by the given time.

"We pray for the government officials and kidnappers who are in negotiations, may they agree to a peaceful resolution quickly and allow the hostages to be reunited with their families," concluded WEA's Tunnicliffe.