South Korean missionaries remembered as AirAsia flight wreckage & bodies recovered

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Christian Examiner) -- Relatives waiting for news of those on board AirAsia's Flight QZ8501 broke into tears as they watched rescuers begin pulling bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo Dec. 30.

The plane, which lost contact with air traffic control early on Saturday in bad weather on its way to Signapore, had among its 162 passengers a South Korean missionary couple and their one-year-old daughter the South Korean foreign ministry confirmed.

A search and rescue worker prepares to load body bags onto a flight to Kalimantan in Pangkal Pinang, Bangka Dec. 30, 2014. Indonesian rescuers saw bodies and luggage off the coast of Borneo island on Tuesday and officials said they were "95 percent sure" debris spotted in the sea was from a missing AirAsia plane with 162 people on board. Indonesia AirAsia's Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. | REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

The Indonesian navy, according to reports, recovered 40 bodies, but has not yet found the plane.

Park Seong Beom 37, his wife Lee Kyung-hwa and their 11-month old daughter Park Yu Na, were missionaries of Yeosu First Presbyterian Church, traveling to Singapore to renew their visas.

According to The Malaysian Insider, Indonesia -- where the population of roughly 250 million is 87 percent Muslim -- does not issue missionary visas to foreigners. As a result, Park and his wife had to fly to Singapore annually to extend their tourist visas.

Park was a long-time lay-missionary active in his church since childhood. He had been a missionary in Cambodia before traveling to Indonesia three years ago. The couple had only just a relocated to the town of Malang in September to teach Korean and computer skills there. Lee, a Seoul native, was previously commissioned by her church to Indonesia and had spent several years there.

The two met at a mission organization called Insiders that trains missionaries to work in Southeast Asian countries, the Korea JoongAng Daily reported. They were married in Korea in October of 2012 and their daughter was born in January of this year.

The couple participated in a dedication ceremony with about 350 church members prior to their departure a church elder, H.S. Kim told the WSJ. Shortly after news broke about the flight's disappearance Kim Jong-heon, the missions pastor of Yeosu First Presbyterian Church said he was alerted of news about the missionary family by the individuals who awaited their arrival at the Singapore airport.

"Park has been committed to missionary work from his teenage years," Kim said noting Park began traveling Southeast Asia to share the Gospel after finishing his military duty with the Korea International Cooperation Agency.

"When he was staying in Korea, he did administrative work to support missionaries in foreign countries."


The Indonesian pilot had asked for permission to gain altitude to avoid thunderstorms, but did not obtain it becuase of heavy air traffic.

The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, told relatives to "be strong," according to Reuters.

Of those who perished, she said, "They are not ours, they belong to God."