A recent article in The Peace Weekly on two diocesan priests from Suwon, working as missioners in the Sudan, notes the many Koreans working in the missions, not including Korean communities overseas. At the end of 2009 the Catholic Church of Korea had 863 missioners working in different parts of the world.
"To live as a missioner is a daily challenge" was the way the two missioners expressed what life is like in the Sudan. They are working in a country with severe poverty, disease and ignorance. The situation is desperate and cannot be compared to the usually less than ideal situations in most of Africa. The Sudan has suffered many years of war, and the scars remain. Most of their teenagers have been in the war and still have family members in the army, many of them having lost members of their families in the fighting. As a result, starvation is a reality for many. Kept at bay until 2005, when food dropped from relief planes ended, and they are now asking the missioners to do the same: send planes with food.
In the meantime, the effort to get the Sudanese to become self-reliant is a full time task. Many have never done any service for others. They have grown accustomed to being dependent on others to survive, so it will take years, the missioners believe, to wean them of this dependency and allow them to take charge of bettering their lives. The missioners realize that it is not only what they do that is important in keeping them there in the Sudan, but the help of the Korean Church and individual Catholics is also necessary.
The mission in the Sudan is an expensive one, for there are few resources there to rely on. "Giving the Sudanese material goods that will enable them to have a self-supporting Church is not enough," say the missioners. "Buiding solidarity with the people and with those who will follow is also important, and it will not come with more material goods but when everyone involved works together to achieve a common goal. From our point of view, we cannot find satisfaction in what we are doing by only giving, for as we followed in the footsteps of the missioners from the West, we hope also to encourage others to follow us. We were able to put down roots because of the sweat and tears of the western missioners."
They go on to say that the Mission Sunday collections back home in Korea, important as they are, do not compare to the sending of missioners. It is now time for the Korean Church to be concerned not only about their own problems but about the poverty and hunger in other parts of the world. Africa, they point out, is the Lazarus of our day, lying on the floor by our food-laden tables, looking for scrapes to sustain itself.
Half of the Korean missioners are working among the Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and those living in Hong Kong. 640 are sisters; the men religious are few, the dioceses not yet actively taking an interest. But the Peace Weekly article is confident that it will not be long before we will have over 1,000 working in the missions. Compared to about 20,000 missionary Protestants, we still have a long way to go. However, there are hopeful signs for the future.