SEOUL, South Korea - The 19 Christian hostages who were held by the Taliban in Afghanistan returned home to Korea this weekend. But the hostage crisis has caused a controversy in Korea.
Within hours of their arrival back home, hundreds of thousands of Koreans were in church thanking God for the safe return of the freed hostages.
The pastor of one of the largest churches in Seoul, Sang Bok Kim, reminded his congregation and the nation that the real criminals were the Taliban and not the 19 aid workers.
"They are criminals kidnapping innocent people, demanding ransom and killing people. They are absolute criminals," said Kim, pastor of Halleluiah Community Church.
But throughout the six-week ordeal, the focus hasn't been on the actions of the Taliban, but on South Korea's missionary activities.
The 19 Christians arrived Sunday morning to a nation relieved but deeply divided over the hostage crisis.
"We once again want to apologize for causing concern to the people, and want to thank everyone who helped us to return back safely," former hostage Yoo Kyung-shik said.
Newspaper articles and editorial pages this weekend called for a full investigation to find out what really happened and who should be held responsible for the crisis.
One leading English newspaper also called on churches to stop all missionary activity.
Some of the harshest criticism against the South Korean Christians has actually come online.
One particular site says those who went to Afghanistan will be punished. But the South Korean leaders who talked to CBN said that the criticism against the Christians is unfair.
"They were just innocent travelers; particularly they were there to serve the people," Kim said.
Now that they're free, Korean Christians are speaking out against a government decision to ban all further missionary work in Afghanistan.
"This is devastating for us," said Hyung Suk Kim founder of Korean Foundation for World Aid. "So many have spent time and money in that country helping the poor and now suddenly they have to stop and leave all that work behind. This is a huge setback."
This South Korean Christian is among those who were asked to leave Afghanistan last week after working there for four years building schools. His identity has been concealed for security reasons.
"I understand they had to rescue the hostages but you can't ban us from going and helping the poor," one South Korean missionary to Afghanistan said. "I'm not sure what I'll do now. I'll probably wait sometime before going back in."
Others say that such an agreement with the Taliban is non-binding.
"If that agreement was done between the Korean government and the Afghan government that's another story but these are criminals!" Pastor Kim said.
Meanwhile, the head of South Korea's intelligence service is denying reports that his government paid the Taliban $20 million to secure the release of the 19 hostages. The Taliban claimed the kidnapping a victory and vowed to carryout more abductions.
The pastor of their church says they were pressured to renounce their faith and convert to Islam.
He says some of them were badly beaten for refusing to convert and that the Taliban tried to sexually assault some of the women during their six weeks in captivity. But two of the Korean men fought them off.