"At first they thought we were reckless, then considered crazy but happy crazies." Francis and Sophia, recently profiled by the Peace Weekly, are a married couple working as missionaries in Malawi, Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world, and a country ravaged by the AIDS epidemic.
They are working with the Marianists in the Lusublio Orphan Care Project in the diocese of Mzuzu, where thousands of orphans live. The couple are presently involved in starting worker-managed farms that help feed the orphans and the poor. To date there are five such farms in operation, and they plan to put more farmland under cultivation soon.
They are planting crops on reclaimed wasteland; though they lack fertilizer and good seed, they have no lack of know-how. Francis has a back ground in farming and has taken college-level courses in horticulture. Their main crop is corn but also planted are rice, tomatoes, beans, and other vegetables, and using seeds brought back from Korea, cabbage and eggplants.
They have also started a Food Bank, the idea coming from examples in their Korean history: when the harvest was poor, food was donated to the needy; and when the harvest was good, the food was returned to the Food Bank for others to take. They recently lent 100 sacks of food to 100 families, receiving back in due course 70 sacks. This approach is still new and will take some time before getting to a point of self-sufficiency.
In visiting homes, they found none that had food set aside for the next day. The Malawians are fortunate to have one meal a day, which is one reason life expediency is less than 40 years, and the main reason Francis and Sophia wanted to begin the Food Bank.
Korea is no longer a receiver of aid, but, as the lives of Francis and Sophia have demonstrated, is now a giver of aid. The Korean Church is also no longer in need of missioners but is sending money and missioners to other parts of the world. These missioners are no longer just priests and religious; lay people are also very much involved.
Both Francis and Sophia did not entertain the thought of becoming missioners until recently. It was in 2005 that they decided to leave the typical average life and go to the missions. They finished the two-year course at the Suwon seminary, and in 2008 left for Africa, leaving behind their two sons, who were working their way through college with part-time jobs supplementing the revenue from their scholarships.
In Malawi, life is far from easy. Even though Francis and Sophia have to deal with the dry and raining seasons, with mosquitoes, lice and bedbugs, and the endemic diseases of the country, they are extremely happy. When the time comes, Francis wants to be buried in Malawi; Sophia says she doesn't want to be a burden to their friends in Malawi and wants to return to Korea. Francis answers that God will make the decision.