The example of the Korean church
From time to time I’m asked to write a review on a book. My favourite is writing reviews for the Missionalia, the journal for the Southern African Missiological Society. This has a number of advantages for myself: I get to read some of the latest books written about missions, something which is fairly difficult unless one has regular access to a university library. I get exposed to a variety of topics, many of which I would probably not have chosen to read about if I had not been forced to do so. And I get to keep the book after I’ve read it! And with the latest one selling at Amazon at a price of $92, this is quite a nice gift (or payment for services rendered!)
The book I’ve just finished was written by a Spanish priest in the Catholic church, Antton Iraola, who had been a missionary in Korea and Thailand for twenty years. His book, True Confucians, Bold Christians (I also struggled to find out where this title came from before reading it) tells the story of how Christianity (or at least the Catholic part of it) came to Korea in the last part of the eighteenth century. It’s quite an amazing story of Chinese church documents finding their way to Korea, people reading these documents and then expressing the wish that they wanted to accept Jesus as Saviour after reading what Jesus had done while on earth. For more than a century these people had to depend upon the laity to serve the church as there were no trained priests who could lead them.
When looking at their lifestyle, they took their example from Christ Himself, endeavouring to live in the same way as He lived. Their wish was to become empty vessels – empty of themselves – so that Christ could live through them. Part of this process was that they became the servants of the other people.
In a country that was built upon the concept of classes, the message which came from the Christians was totally strange – the message that God had created all human beings as equal and that one person could not consider himself higher than another. Remarkably this message also referred to the equality of men and women. By living out the life of Christ, things began to change in the country. The way in which community leaders were chosen started changing. In a country where women in general had a wretched life, things started changing within marriages.
Antton Iraola wrote this book as a model for other churches to follow in a time when it seems that the church has little integrity in the world. On a small scale this is what we are trying to do in Swaziland in our AIDS projects where we also try and become the hands and feet of Christ. We still have a long way to go, but I do believe – and this book confirmed it – that the only way in which the church will really be able to regain integrity in the world is by becoming a servant to all people.
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This is a blog where I would like to share some of my ideas about contemporary mission. I have more than 25 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, have done a PhD on the theology of mission – specifically on the relationship between mission and eschatology – and am presently specialising in the problem of HIV/AIDS and how the church should approach this problem. You are welcome to respond and share your ideas on this blog.
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