Saturday, 2 November 2013

On the margin?

Saturday. No plenaries and no Ecumenical Conversations today. But programmes planned by the Korean churches for the WCC delegates and participants. We could choose from 15 different programmes. The most spectacular was the journey to the border between North and South on the 38th parallel. Other programmes included visits to places close to Busan. We were supposed to register on line before coming to Busan. I didn't do that, but was still able to register for a programme named: Empowering the marginalized.

Before I say anything about the day I have to refer to a very important document that the Assembly is dealing with. It’s called:
Together towards life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.
Sometimes it is called:
Mission from the margins. 
I have written about this before. The new perspective is that people on the marginhave agency, have a contribution to give.

So my expectations were these: I knew we were going to a hospital and I thought we would meet a group of patients and have a conversation with them. Maybe also visit an area where people live in poverty and some interesting projects. I thought we were going to see another Korea than BEXCO and the fancy hotels we stay in.

I was wrong and I was right. The day did not meet my expectations in the sense that we did what I thought we were going to do. But it was very rewarding and interesting in other ways.

First of all we did visit a hospital and was led to a room where refreshments waited for us. A presentation followed. The history of the hospital. 95% was the history of Australian Presbyterian missionaries and their work to open the hospital, nursing school etc. With names, photos and detailed facts about their lives. Interesting! But what about the marginalized?

The Mackenzie sisters were instrumental in the history of the hospital.

Next stop was an old school. More facts about the same missionaries and their contribution. The old school was now a museum and one of the oldest buildings in Busan, built in Western style. (And not in Japanese style). Why focus on western architecture?

Where are the marginalized? Where is the empowerment? I was confused.

But then they showed us a room in the museum which told a story about the resistance movement during the Japanese occupation. (1910-1945). It is called "the March 1st Movement" and it started in that building. And I understood that the Australian missionaries were deeply involved.

Information about the March 1st Movement.

My prejudice (coming from another context) was that missionaries work closely with the colonial power. Missionary work goes hand in hand with paternalism. In South Africa the churches both love and hate the missionaries. (This I know from experience but Purity Malinga – a Methodist priest from Pretoria, who was also in the bus – expressed it just like that). Not so in Korea. People love the missionaries. At least the Presbyterian missionaries from Australia. They were supporting the Korean people against the colonial power: Japan. (The first invasion from Japan took place between 1592 and 1598. They have a long history together).

I understood that I had to listen for the empowerment of the marginalized with other ears. And then I also realized that the hospital was a hospital mainly for women and that the church paid for migrant workers who are not part of the Korean health insurance system. Maybe there is more empowerment here then I first saw.

We also visited a church nearby, where we were offered a fantastic lunch. Hospital, school, church. Those three parts of a classic mission station. Spirituality, health and education. Important parts of empowerment! Done in partnership with missionaries who really understood who they should support.

After lunch we went with the bus quite far, to visit a university run partly by the church. Now the time was really against us. We spent less than 20 minutes in a board room with the founder of the university. We go tea and a present. (We also got presents at the hospital and at the church!)

The plan was also that we should stop at school where people were waiting for us but due to time constraints we skipped that. I think that was sad. But we could do nothing about it.

The short visit at the university was very formal.

In the bus I thought about where the people on the margin fit in at the university. Well, maybe when one of the visitors, a priest from Myanmar asked if they accept students from Myanmar. Yes, the founder said. And they only have to pay half of the tuition fee. And then he asked the priest for his contact details and it felt as he was genuinely interested in helping students from Myanmar to get a chance to study at the university.

The first Australian, Presbyterian missionary died after only 6 month. Two Coptic priests from the US and Australia were amazed when they listened to the guide.

Lastly we stopped at a memorial site, where the church (with the help of the state) has erected memorial stones for those missionaries who lost their lives while they were far away from home, being in service. This memorial site was not old. Maybe a few years. I was again stunned. I don't think this would happen in South Africa. And I don’t think it should happen there. But the Korean people in this context obviously had a totally different experience. One of the missionaries who is still alive was with us. John Brown – more than 80 years. Fluent in Korean and very active.

We also ended up having vivid ecumenical (informal) conversations in the bus. Being a very mixed group of Lutherans from Sweden, a Czech Republic Hussite, a Moravian from Nicaragua, Coptic priests and nuns from Australia and America, a Methodist from South Africa,others from Myanmar, Indonesia, Australia etc. This fellowship of churches is really a great inspiration.

I am glad that participated in this part of the pilgrimage that we all make of during the Assembly. Tomorrow I will attend church somewhere in Busan. I just know that I shall enter bus number 4. At 9 am. That’s all!

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