In a gesture of support toward the families of the Korean hostages being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and a Methodist minister from Kenya, visited them yesterday while on a trip to Korea.
Of the 23 Christian humanitarian workers who were taken hostage on 19 July 2007, two have been killed by their captors, while two others were released yesterday into the care of the international Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.
During the 40-minute meeting, which was held at the Sammul Presbyterian Church in Bundang near Seoul, Dr Kobia told the families that "the prayers of millions of Christians around the world" were being offered for the speedy and safe release of the hostages.
The visit was pastoral, and Dr Kobia did not engage the group in details about the hostage situation.
"Their pain is our pain; their tears are our tears," Dr Kobia said in a phone interview from Korea shortly after the meeting.
"You could see their pain and agony. It was written all over their faces," he said of the families. "It was a very moving moment for me."
"I told them they have now become part of a bigger family, and they can feel they now have a global family holding them up in prayer," he said.
Dr Kobia was accompanied by the Rev Kwon Oh-Sung, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea, and Jung Hae-Sun, a member of the WCC executive committee and central committee.
During the meeting Dr Kobia expressed the hope that "our world will become the kind of world where human beings can express support of other human beings, without our acts of charity being viewed with suspicion."
Members of the hostages' families are meeting at the church on a daily basis, Dr Kobia said, arriving in the morning and often staying until 10 p.m.
While at the church, more than 30 other people, many young people, assist the families by cooking meals and offering "mutual support and encouragement," he added.
National and international media were at the church and met with Dr Kobia at the close of his visit, but at the request of the families no public media were allowed in their meeting with him.
Dr Kobia met the hostages' families at the end of a weeklong trip to Korea where he attended two pre-planned conferences, one celebrating the 100th anniversary of the great revival of 1907 and the other examining the continuing role of the Korean churches in the reunification of the Korean peninsula.