Friday, August 7, 2009

Foreigners in KoreaㅡCatholic Missionaries

Back in the early 60s the missioner would ordinarily be the only foreigner walking the streets of the farming area in which he worked. He had one of the better looking houses in the area; one of the few cars travelling the roads seemed to belong to a senior civil servant, police chief or a missioner. The missioner excited widespread interest in those who passed his way. The word you heard was "American American," (미국 사람 미국사람) sometimes with a not too complementary adjective but most of the time just the word "American". I wondered how the other foreigners at that time liked to be called Americans. The Koreans had seen many foreign soldiers right after the Korean War and most of them were Americans.

If in the 60s foreigners where an odd sight to most of the Koreans especially in the country it is not hard to understand why during the years of persecution the Paris Foreign Missioners wore mourning clothes to disguise their appearance.

Coming into recent times the foreigner is no longer a stranger, even the children in the country do not bother to look twice. We have become a part of the Korean way of life. Korea is no longer a hermit kingdom or the home of a racially homogeneous people. This change came quickly and within a few years it will be 2 million foreigners living in Korea.

In the paper yesterday the front page carried an article reporting that the number of foreigners in Korea has topped 1 million. From the last time they made the count back in 2006 the increase was almost double. It seems that all the different groups have had an increase: different national groups, naturalized citizens, children of foreigners, illegal aliens, workers, overseas Koreans residing in Korea, students, and business people. However not mentioned were missionaries. Most of the missionaries that were here before the Korean War would have a decrease in the numbers working in Korea. The Maryknoll Society from the high mark, close to 100 Maryknollers have only 17 that remain in Korea. The Korean Church does not need us and some of the men, who have worked in Korea, have volunteered to go to China, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia and even Japan. (Click to see where we work) Those of us who remain try to help the Korean Church in areas where they accept us and most hope , health permitting , to remain until we return to our true home country.