The head of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has welcomed the release of 19 South Korean hostages this week.
The group of Christian medical volunteers, originally numbering 23, endured six weeks of captivity at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan after their bus was overtaken by the Islamic militant group en route to provide free medical services to poor Afghan citizens.
Since the kidnapping – the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 – two male hostages were killed by their captors. The remaining 21 were all released, beginning with two female hostages on Aug. 13 and followed weeks later by the final 19, who were released in successive rounds over the course of two days – Wednesday and Thursday.
"We at the World Evangelical Alliance rejoice in the fact that our brothers and sisters held hostage for over six weeks have now all been released," said WEA's international director, the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, in a released statement. "At the same time we also grieve the loss of the two male Korean captives and will be praying for God to comfort their families."
Less than a week after the church group's July abduction, the leader of the church group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was found dead in the Mushaki area of Qarabagh district in Ghazni province with 10 bullet holes in his head, chest and stomach. Bae, 42, was reportedly a youth pastor and assistant pastor at the hostages' home church – Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, just south of the South Korean capital Seoul. Church officials said that the youth pastor was killed on his birthday. Five days later, on July 30, the bullet-riddled body of 29-year-old Shim Sung-min was found in a field of clover in Arzoo village about six miles from the eastern city of Ghazni.
Shim's father, Shim Chin-Pyo, a "Buddhist to the bone," has strongly criticized Saemmul church for making the "reckless" decision to push through with the humanitarian project in Afghanistan despite concerns over the safety of the volunteers and warnings from the government.
"I wonder why the church was so reckless in taking them to the dangerous country. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, moving in such a conspicuous manner. They traveled on a dangerous road at night in a bus," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Shim said he did not know his son had gone to Afghanistan until his acquaintances told him they saw Sung-min's picture on T.V. about 24 hours after the news broke of the abduction.
"The church should have informed us about the trip to the dangerous place in advance," he said.
The slain hostages' father also said he wanted to see a written waiver allegedly given by his son to the church before leaving on the trip.
"Leaders of the church tried to console me in Christian ways, saying my son was brought to Heaven by God. But it was far from a consolation for me as I am a Buddhist to the bone," Shim said.
In his statement, WEA's Tunnicliffe assured the churches in Korea that the 420 million-member alliance "will continue to pray for them as they process the emotions and changes following the hostage crisis."
"We recognize there is much current debate on the future of Korean missionary work in dangerous or complex situation," he said.
As part of the deal to free the hostages, the South Korean government had pledged to stop Korean Christian missionary activities in Afghanistan. Protestant organizations in South Korea have said they will respect the new law banning missionary activities in Afghanistan after voicing appreciation for the government's effort in freeing the Christian volunteers. Some have noted, however, that the Taliban apparently wanted to define missionary work to include Korean volunteer activities as well and "to justify their abduction,"
"I'm looking forward to meeting Korean Christian leaders to discuss the significant implications of the South Korean Government's ban on Christian workers going to Afghanistan," Tunnicliffe stated.
The WEA director is scheduled to visit South Korea Sept. 13-17, when he will meet with Korean Christian leaders and possibly the released hostages.
Christian Post correspondent Maria Mackay in London contributed to this report.