AMMAN, Jordan - A South Korean missionary here speaks of introducing Jesus in a "low voice and with wisdom" to Muslims, the most difficult group to convert. In Baghdad, South Koreans plan to open a seminary even after Iraqi churches have been bombed in two recent coordinated attacks. In Beijing, they defy the Chinese government to smuggle North Koreans to Seoul while turning them into Christians.
South Korea has rapidly become the world's second largest source of Christian missionaries, only a couple of decades after it started deploying them. With more than 12,000 abroad, it is second only to the United States and ahead of Britain.
The Koreans have joined their Western counterparts in more than 160 countries, from the Middle East to Africa, from Central to East Asia. Imbued with the fervor of the born again, they have become known for aggressively going to - and sometimes being expelled from - the hardest-to-evangelize corners of the world. Their actions are at odds with the foreign policy of South Korea's government, which is trying to rein them in here and elsewhere.
It is the first time that large numbers of Christian missionaries have been deployed by a non-Western nation, one whose roots are Confucian and Buddhist, and whose population remains two-thirds non-Christian. Unlike Western missionaries, whose work dovetailed with the spread of colonialism, South Koreans come from a country with little history of sending people abroad until recently. They proselytize, not in their own language, but in the local one or English.
"There is a saying that when Koreans now arrive in a new place, they establish a church; the Chinese establish a restaurant; the Japanese, a factory," said a South Korean missionary in his 40's, who has worked here for several years and, like many others, asked not to be identified because of the dangers of proselytizing in Muslim countries.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon