Christian missionaries on missing AirAsia flight 8501

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Family members of passengers onboard missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 cry at a waiting area in Juanda International Airport, Surabaya on Dec. 29, 2014. The missing AirAsia plane carrying 162 people is presumed to have crashed off the Indonesian coast, an official said on Monday. | REUTERS/Beawiharta

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Christian Examiner) – A Christian missionary from Korea, his wife, and their one-year-old daughter are among those on the AirAsia jet that went missing Sunday and is presumed to have crashed.

The couple moved to Indonesia several months ago, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, where Park Seong-beom, 37, and Lee Kyung-hwa, 36, began teaching Korean and computer skills in the town of Malang, on the eastern half of Java Island.

An official at Yeosu First Presbyterian Church, Park's home church, said the family was traveling from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Signapore to renew their visas, according to the WSJ.

An Indonesia AirAsia Airbus A320-200 passenger prepares to land at Sukarno-Hatta airport in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta Jan. 30, 2013. AirAsia Bhd, Asia's largest budget airline by passengers, reported a net profit of 1.9 billion Malaysian ringgit (3.10 million) in the full year 2012, up more than two-fold compared to the previous year. | REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni

"Mr. Park was a very devout Christian,'' Choi Hon-koo told WSJ in Seoul. "After working four years in Cambodia as a missionary, he had been sent to Indonesia, where he worked hard doing his missionary work and teaching Korean and computer to kids there. I still can't believe the family is missing."

The Yeosu church is in a fishing town of about 300,000 on the southern coast of Korea and Lee was from Seoul.

Kim Jong-heon, the mission pastor at the church, said the couple was just two months into their work, and that Lee spent several years previously as a missionary in Indonesia when she was single.

Park previously spent time as a non-ordained missionary in Cambodia, according to the report, and the couple was married when he was home on furlough.

He was described by church members as "very passionate" and a "sincere believer," according to the article. Those who knew him from his younger years said he had earned a degree in Chinese language studies.

One church elder recalled their commissioning service where the couple stood with their child before 350 of the congregants.

The Korea World Missions Association reports nearly 26,000 South Korean missionaries working in 169 countries throughout the world.

FOX news said the Indonesian government Monday asked the U.S. for assistance in locating AirAsia flight 8501, an Airbus 320 which vanished in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Signapore.

The crew reportedly asked air traffic control if they could climb to possibly avoid turbulence, but apparently were told they could not because other flights already occupied the crowded airspace.

Experts believe the plane could have crashed into the Java Sea, but can only speculate on possible scenarios until the aircraft is found.