S. Korea Mulls Limits on Missionary Travel to Middle East

South Korea, the second largest missionary-sending country in the world, is thinking about barring certain Christian missionaries from traveling to the Middle East in light of recent expulsions.

Foreign Ministry officials said Thursday that the government may impose restrictions because missionary work in some Middle Eastern nations threatens the safety of not only the missionaries but other South Koreans as well.

"Their work goes against local sentiment and makes them targets of al-Qaida or the Taliban," a ministry official told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. "There are also strong possibilities that the safety of ordinary citizens could be threatened."

In 2007, 23 Christian volunteers from South Korea were kidnapped by Taliban militants in Afghanistan as they were on their way to provide free medical aid to poor Afghans.

Following the deaths of two hostages and the release of the remaining 21, criticism of ''rash'' evangelism conducted by South Korean missionaries broke out, with some noting how the Christian workers were ill-prepared for dangers in Afghanistan, how they ignored the Korean government's warning against travel to the country, and how the Korean government was forced to negotiate with terrorists – an action that drew international criticism.

In the aftermath of the highly publicized 40-day ordeal, several prominent Korean church organizations said they would stop missionaries from going to Afghanistan in adherence with the government's agreement with the Taliban and discuss possible changes to overseas mission strategies.

On Sept. 4, 2007, six progressive church groups issued a statement expressing "regret" that the former hostages did not follow the government's regulations and "caused the nation a lot of trouble."

"We now promise to comply with the guidelines of the government in the future," they stated, according to The Korea Times.

On Thursday, the official that spoke to AP said current measures under consideration by the South Korean government include banning those who have a record of deportation for evangelical work in Middle Eastern nations from entering those countries again.

According to the Foreign Ministry, dozens of Christian missionaries have been expelled for proselytizing in recent weeks from nations where it is banned, including Iran, Jordan and Yemen.

Reports last year placed the number of Korean missionaries worldwide at around 18,000 – spread across 168 countries.