Slain S. Korean Pastor Often Visited Afghanistan

The Taliban killed a male South Korean hostage in Afghanistan. He was a pastor and missionary on a 10-day trip. The Taliban still holds 22 South Korean hostages. Peter Beck of the International Crisis Group in Seoul, and a relative of the slain pastor, spoke with Steve Inskeep.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here's the most we think we know about 22 South Korean hostages. They're being held in Afghanistan. And authorities believe they are still alive despite the passing of another deadline today. There is no doubt about a 23rd hostage. His body was found yesterday. He was shot to death after the Afghan government did not meet the hostage-takers' demands.

The hostages are protestant missionaries and the man killed was a 42-year-old pastor. He was also a member of the extended family of Peter Beck, who works for the International Crisis Group in Seoul and he's on the line from there.

Welcome to the program, sir.

Mr. PETER BECK (Project Director, International Crisis Group, Seoul): Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And I'm sorry for your family's loss.

Mr. BECK: Thank you.

INSKEEP: How did your family learn about what happened?

Mr. BECK: Well, we learned yesterday evening that they had recovered a body and it was not long afterwards that it was determined to be the brother of my brother-in-law.

INSKEEP: What was Bae Hyung-kyu doing in Afghanistan?

Mr. BECK: Well, this was either his third or fourth trip and I'm still learning from my family. But he'd been making annual trips during the summer. The church had set up a hospital and an orphanage in the southern part of Afghanistan. And he'd been making visits every summer to provide relief supplies for the facilities and had taken his group into Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: I understand that a lot of Christian missionaries, when they worked in Muslim countries, they agree not even to try to convert anybody. They just try to do, try to do good if they can.

Mr. BECK: That's right. And so they had been approved by the Afghan government to set up these facilities. There have been rumors that they have been carrying bibles with them, but we haven't been able to confirm that. And my family have told me very directly that they were not engaged in any proselytizing.

INSKEEP: Well, now, knowing what you do about South Korea and trends there, does it surprise you at all that it would produce a couple of dozen evangelicals who would be doing this kind of work in Afghanistan?

Mr. BECK: Well, no. Unfortunately, it doesn't, because Korea is second in the world in terms of the number of missionaries that are sent overseas only to the United States, and actually I get proselytized. I get asked, do you believe in God, more by Koreans and more in Korea than I do when I'm in the United States. So there's a very large, you know, millions of Koreans who are very strong believers in Christianity.

INSKEEP: And when you say sending people overseas, missionaries overseas, we're talking about all around the world?

Mr. BECK: That's right. They're in, I believe, more than 150 countries. In some ways among the more active churches, there's actually a competition to see who can send more missionaries to more different countries. And so it's led them to push the envelope, if you will, and to cover countries that they really shouldn't be in.

INSKEEP: Even in a context like that, it must have been a great challenge to decide to go to Afghanistan.

Mr. BECK: Well, and particularly, you know, even though this involves my family, you know, the fact that he would take these 18 women with him who are, you know, weekend volunteer assistants and taking them into such a dangerous environment I think is really unconscionable. And I regret that, you know, that he made that decision.

But I think because he'd been there before, I think there's a tendency for people working in dangerous situations to just assume that, you know, well, I know the situation better than other people do and I've done this before and I can do it again, but I think we're seeing that the Taliban are getting stronger and stronger and it shows that it's just not safe to leave Kabul.

INSKEEP: We should mention, you work for the International Crisis Group, which deals with troubled countries around the world. I imagine...

Mr. BECK: We have an office in Kabul.

INSKEEP: ...you've been in situations like this.

Mr. BECK: That's right.

INSKEEP: And you speak from experience. How are people in South Korea responding to news of this death and news of the continued captivity of the others?

Mr. BECK: Well, to be honest, last night most people were watching a soccer game here. There's an Asian soccer tournament going on and Korea was actually ironically playing Iraq. And so most TVs in public, at least that I saw, were watching the soccer game last night, even though this tragedy was unfolding.

But it's certainly - it's the big news story today and people are really just crushed and everyone is just hoping that these remaining 22 can be freed.

INSKEEP: And how is your family remembering Bae Hyung-kyu?

Mr. BECK: Well, they're still reacting to the shock and actually I'm going home to be with my wife's family and, you know, just support them. But Mr. Bae comes from a family of very strong Christians, from the beautiful island of Chejudo, and my brother-in-law included is a very devout Christian. Their father is a pastor. So they're very strong believers. But now they've become the symbols for this tragedy.

INSKEEP: Peter Beck is a project director with the International Crisis Group. He's in Seoul, South Korea. Thanks very much.

Mr. BECK: Thank you for having me.

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