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Killed Korean Hostage Dedicated Life to Serving Others

Afghan convert to Christianity thanks South Korean church for its sacrifice.

8/2/07 Afghanistan (Compass Direct News) – A Korean Christian aid worker murdered by his Taliban captors on Monday (July 30) had sacrificed his time and job to help those less fortunate than himself, eventually losing his life while serving the needy in Afghanistan.

For Shim Sung Min, 29, traveling to Afghanistan with an aid group of 23 members of his home congregation in South Korea reflected an active desire to live out his faith.

The former IT worker, a graduate of South Korea ’s Gyeongsang National University , had volunteered his time to teach Sunday school classes to handicapped church-goers on a weekly basis at the Sammul Presbyterian church, a member of the church said.

Prompted by the needs of poor Korean farmers negatively affected by globalization, Shim had decided to quit his job and pursue a graduate degree in agriculture, the church member told Compass.

“He always wanted to help,” the church member said. “He was moved to go to Afghanistan in order to help people.”

Korean Internet news website Dong-A Ilbo reported that Shim’s family planned to carry out Shim’s request that his body be donated to Seoul National University Hospital .

Shim’s corpse was expected to arrive in South Korean today as negotiations for the release of 21 remaining Korean hostages from his church continue. The group’s leader, pastor Bae Hyung Kyu, was shot on July 25, his birthday.

Taliban spokesmen threatened to kill more hostages yesterday by 12 p.m. (local time) if the Afghan government continued to refuse to release Taliban prisoners. Taliban leaders later confirmed that no one had been hurt.

Relatives of five remaining male hostages are particularly concerned after the Taliban threatened to kill off first the group’s males (it was previously misreported that there were only five males in the original group of 23 aid workers).

“If the negotiations do not go well, [the militants] will kill the male hostages, and then it will be the female hostages’ turn,” purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday (July 31).

The 23 Koreans from Bandung ’s Sammul Presbyterian church were on a 10-day service trip to Afghanistan when they were captured on July 19 while traveling by bus from Kabul through Afghanistan ’s Ghazni province to Kandahar .

Storm of Hostility

The kidnapping has aroused a storm of anti-Christian sentiment among Koreans online, who not only labeled the group’s trip to Afghanistan as naïve but also condemned the Christians for supposedly carrying out evangelistic work.

Both the Korean government and church leadership, as well as a member of the congregation speaking to Compass, confirmed that the group was carrying out service work in orphanages and hospitals.

But several Korean Internet users posted a video clip on with pictures and writings from the homepages of the victims, suggesting that the Korean hostages were conducting evangelistic activities in mosques, Korean daily Chosun reported.

“Several netizens [internet users] said they sent the pictures to the Taliban’s e-mail address and called for the Islamist militants to kill the hostages,” Chosun said. The daily reported that official websites of the Sammul Church and the Korea Foundation for World Aid have been closed due to a large number of attacks from hackers.

Despite such condemnations, there appears to be no evidence that the Taliban targeted the Koreans for being Christians. One Taliban commander, who was released by the Afghan government earlier this year in exchange for an Italian journalist, told British TV that he had commanded all his fighters to kidnap foreigners to use as bargaining chips, the BBC reported on Friday (July 27).

An Afghan convert to Christianity told Compass that local Afghans were not able to differentiate between missionaries and non-governmental organization workers, automatically assuming that all foreigners were Christians.

“For an ordinary Afghan, anyone who is from Europe or America is a Christian,” the convert said. He said that before this incident most Afghans were not aware to which religion Koreans “belonged” but now would assume that all Koreans are Christians.

Responding to accusations that the group decided to travel to Afghanistan without heeding travel warnings, the convert said that the aid workers could have been more careful. The Koreans had decided to travel by bus along a dangerous stretch of road to Kandahar when no flights to the city were available.

But the convert said he supported the group’s decision to visit Afghanistan and that he hoped the Christian presence in the country would continue.

“During the Taliban regime, the main expatriate group in Afghanistan was Christians,” the Christian said. “They were here to help Afghanistan … no one else had the guts to come and help this war-torn country.”

He said that Christians were called to serve, at times at a very high cost.

“Thank you for coming to Afghanistan to serve my people,” the Afghan said, addressing the hostages and other Korean Christians who had served in Afghanistan . “Thank you for letting the world know, ‘Don’t forget Afghanistan .’ Your Afghan brothers in faith are praying for you daily.”