I’ve had a hard time deciding what to blog about for this entry. I could write on what I learned about the history of Christianity in Korea (did you know Korean Christianity is only about 120 years old?), or current issues (decline in membership) facing the Korean church. All of these topics would merit a post to themselves, but instead I’m going to focus on an experience I had outside the classroom that was informed by a week of conversations and learning inside the classroom.
The history of Christian missions is a mixed bag at best. Missionaries often brought their own ‘Christian culture’ and supplanted or outright squashed indigenous ways of understanding and being Christian (check out Stephen Neil’s, History of Christian Mission for a great primer). I’m one of those who would love to do away with the term ‘missionary’ because of all the pejorative associations with the word. However, in Korea they love the missionaries who dedicated their lives to ensure that the Gospel was brought to the Korean Peninsula.
Inside the classroom, that love was evident again and again. They talked about how the missionaries left their homes and brought the Gospel to Korea. Because of their great sacrifices, Koreans want to ‘pay back’ what was given to them by sending out their own missionaries to places in need of the Gospel. This is driven home by the fact that Korea sends out more missionaries per capita than any other country in the world. Wow.
Outside the classroom, this love was most evident then when we visited the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery. There they tell stories of saintly missionaries giving their lives, and the lives of their family, to translate the Bible, to open schools, to heal the sick, and to tell the story of Christ’s love.
For the first time in a long while, my cynical self was overcome with gratitude for missionaries who gave their lives in Korea for the Gospel. No, they weren’t perfect, and yes, there were absolutely some great Koreans who shared the Gospel along side them, but these foreign missionaries made a difference for the Gospel in Korea.
That cemetery experience reminded me that even with all the negative associations with the word ‘missionary,’ we as followers of Jesus are missionaries, be it at work, the grocery store, or in Korea. We have to daily decide whether we’ll be good missionaries who incarnate the Gospel, or bad missionaries who incarnate our own sick culture. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to be a purveyor and champion of our sick culture and not the Good News that ‘Jesus is Lord’. That decision makes me just as questionable as those missionaries I have doubts about. The later allows me to seek my own needs and desires whereas the former requires me to die to my needs, my desires, and to sometimes, as in the case of these Korean missionaries, die in the most physical sense of the word. The choice is mine to make daily, and I’m grateful those who died in Korea have legacies that beg me to ask the question, ‘What kind of missionary will I be?’