Missionaries Aware of Danger in Volatile Areas

The 21 South Korean hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan are missionaries but say they were providing humanitarian aid at hospitals and schools. Mike Pocock, head of the World Missions and Intercultural Studies department at the Dallas Theological Seminary, talks with Renee Montagne.

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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. Today, 21 South Korean missionaries remain in the custody of Afghanistan's Taliban. President Bush and Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai both said this week that they would not make any concessions for their release - concessions that would, in some way, reward the Taliban.

MONTAGNE: On this program yesterday, we heard about the risks for Christian missionaries who go to conflict zones. Now those South Koreans held hostage in Afghanistan were apparently there on a humanitarian mission to help hospitals and schools. Their church has vehemently denied that they were engaged in evangelism. Mike Pocock is head of the world missions and intercultural studies department at the Dallas Theological Seminary. I asked him whether he thinks in this case the church put the lives of these Christian volunteers in danger by sending them to a volatile Muslim country.

Professor MICHAEL POCOCK (World Missions and Intercultural Studies Department, Dallas Theological Seminary; Author, "The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends"): I'm sure that they understood that there were risks involved in this because, obviously, Afghanistan is still quite unstable and very difficult and unfortunate things can happen, and it certainly happened to them.

In their case, I don't think that they were grabbed by the Taliban because there were missionaries, but because they needed pawns to trade some of their own people that are held in prisons. That's their stated objective. But every Christian, whether they're an aid worker, whether they're businessperson, whatever they are, it really is their hope that they're going to be able to manifest the love of Jesus Christ through what they're doing, whether they get to say anything or not, specifically, about the Gospel.

MONTAGNE: Well, generally speaking, there are plenty of hostile airheads in the world these days - some are Catholic-Christian others are not Christian. Do you think that missionaries should be traveling to hostile countries to do what they do?

Prof. POCOCK: Staying away from hostile situations is like staying away from sick people when you believe you've got a cure. So I think it's entirely legitimate and appropriate to go into areas, even though we know that they are dangerous.

MONTAGNE: What about an alternative? Could missionary groups look to local people to evangelize? Wouldn't that seem to be safer and, in fact, more effective?

Prof. POCOCK: Well, yeah, in fact, many times those who are foreign missionaries actually work to empower, help and encourage national workers. And, on the whole, I would say that national Christian workers are more effective than foreign workers. Obviously, they know the culture and the language better.

MONTAGNE: It's been reported that a fair number of South Koreans are actually angry that these groups of South Korean missionaries were kidnapped. And can it do, in a sense, more harm in terms of the public view than good?

Prof. POCOCK: Well, I suppose that any time the public views what it regards as reckless behavior, needless endangerment of oneself or of other's lives, that they're going to look askance at that. But the Scriptures indicate very, very clearly that anyone who follows Jesus Christ seriously is likely to suffer for it. And Jesus himself, of course, gave his own life for the world, and indicated quite clearly that anyone who followed him would probably have difficulties.

So missionaries and sending Christians understand that they are putting people into harm's way. They try to minimize the dangers of that and take whatever prudent precautions that they can. But nevertheless, they are ready to risk practically everything in order to get the message that they regard as a life-transforming message across to those who they believe need it. I believe that. That's my conviction as well.

MONTAGNE: Do you think that Christian missionaries or Christian aid workers ought to really take it upon themselves to be very prepared and don't do anything that will put them in danger unnecessarily?

Prof. POCOCK: Western missions that have been doing what they're doing for a lot longer time than non-Western missions have an excellent training program and do, in fact, prepare people for risky security areas. But as the churches expanded greatly outside of the West, there's a tremendous enthusiasm for being involved in Gospel work and in sharing the love of Christ. And one of the things that sometimes is not part of that is what I would consider adequate training.

But the Koreans have about 14,000 missionaries working overseas, making them one of the strongest non-Western sending nations that there is, and they have centers of missionary training. Obviously, they were taking a risk, but it's not their fault that they were captured. They were captured by evil men.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Prof. POCOCK: All right. Thank you very much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Mike Pocock is author of the book, "The Changing Face of the World Missions."

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