Gov’t warns Christian missionaries in Mideast

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Gov’t warns Christian missionaries in Mideast

Korean embassy authorities in Yemen were dispatched to Hadda Street in Sanaa on Jan. 10 to stop Korean missionaries from singing Christian songs in the Yemeni capital. It was the third time this month that embassy officials had to scramble to stop missionaries in that country, in an effort to protect both the missionaries and Korean residents there from being the target of terrorist attacks.

Christian proselytizing in Yemen is banned and punishable with imprisonment, and Koreans living there have expressed concern that missionaries are putting their lives at risk.

“If Korean visitors draw attention with such acts, it’s us, the residents, who are prone to danger,” one resident said in a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Jan. 18.

Numerous Korean missionaries, usually college-aged students, travel to Islamic countries during winter break to go on so-called outreach trips.

But travel to Yemen has been limited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to prevent Korean citizens from being the target of Al Qaeda attacks.

Experts say that recent attacks against Koreans are closely related to Korea’s missionary efforts in the Muslim world.

For example, in 2009, Eom Young-sun, a female missionary in Yemen, was abducted and found dead three days later. She was one of nine foreigners who were kidnapped together by either rebels or terrorists, the Yemeni government said in June that year.

But the Korea World Missions Association (KWMA) said that most missionaries follow the necessary laws and go through the proper procedures in order to travel to the Middle East.

“To go on a short-term mission, the team has to inform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and make sure their missionary work doesn’t conflict with local laws,” said a KWMA official. “The team that was [stopped] in Yemen recently seemed to have done something wrong.”

According to the KWMA, there were 22,130 missionaries practicing outside of the country in 2009, nearly double the 12,159 in 2004.

By Shim Seo-hyun, Yim Seung-hye []
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