Our sister mission, VOM Korea, shares this update from South Korea, the country that sends out more missionaries than any other except for the United States:
South Korea is to enact laws to discourage its people from engaging in illegal activities overseas, a move seen by Christian groups here as an attempt to curb missionary work.
The presenting issue? The Korean government wants to avoid "the impairment of national dignity" that it believes results when Korean missionaries are kidnapped or killed as a result of their missionary activities:
Some Christians continue to ignore government warnings and enter nations designated as "unsafe" by the Foreign Ministry for missionary work, leading to cases such as the kidnapping of dozens of Koreans in Afghanistan in 2007 and the imprisonment of two Korean men in Libya last year.
The issue has sparked social disputes in recent years as some side with the government saying taxpayers shouldn't have to shoulder ransoms and other costs spent to rescue the missionaries.
The South Korean government adopted a policy not to pay ransoms to kidnappers after the 2007 Afghanistan incident, during which two people were executed while 21 others were released after the government paid a large sum of money to the Taliban. The exact amount has not been made public.
The reaction from Korean mission agencies has been strong and negative:
"The government wants to control missionary activities overseas," an elder at a Presbyterian Church in Seoul said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
But these negative statements reveal just how spoiled we Christians are. Do we really expect governments to pay ransoms and engage in expensive, extensive, and politically compromising negotiations to bail us out when we Christians are captured serving our king? Do we expect governments to permit us to travel with their sanction so that we can further the kingdom we have been called to serve?
That's a very shaky foundation on which to build a missionary enterprise, friend. We in "free" nations would do well to fundamentally rethink our approach to training and deploying missionaries--today. While we are still "free" to do so, we need to persecution-proof our missionary sending approaches so that they are not toppled by changes in government policy like this one in South Korea. This will mean wholesale changes in how we appoint, train, and publicize the work of missionaries. We will need to study how missionaries are raised up and sent out today in "closed" countries. It's a totally different system--and one that becomes even more germane to us with each passing day-and each passing law.
Then [the Jewish ruling council] called [Peter and John] in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:18-20, NIV)