My Reflections on the Journey
Ever since I returned to Korea, people have asked me, “How old are you?” “Why don’t you dye your gray hair?” whether I’m at the market or waiting at a bus station. And my response would be: “It has already been dyed by God, in a natural way, so why do I need to dye it?”
But personally, the reason why I stopped dyeing my hair was because I learned to value a more ecological way of living during my second term on mission. It took me some time to adjust to having more gray hair which reminds me of my age. However, my new attitude towards my appearance has also enabled me to think of where I’m at that stage of my life journey with the Columban lay missionaries. That is, taking a position of responsibility for the Society, supporting the younger generation of lay missionaries, and facing the challenges and changes which all of this brings.
There is an animated movie I saw recently entitled “Zootopia.” It is the city considered by animals (characters in the movie) as a land of hope where dreams come true. At least, as perceived by one of the main characters in the movie, a small rabbit, whose dream was fulfilled when she became a police officer in the city. The story revolved around the way of life among different species of animals living together in “Zootopia.” I found the movie entertaining and laughed while watching it right up until the happy ending.
However, after watching the movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about the lamb in the movie who was the mastermind behind the conspiracy plot which caused problems among the animals. According to her, small animals were more important in the society, and because she despised the predators, she found a drastic way to remove them from the community so that they could live in her own vision of Zootopia, free of predators.
The whole story of the movie reminded me of myself in the Columban lay missionary program. When I was still beginning my first term in the region of Japan, I watched carefully and listened patiently to both local and Columban communities, one Japanese-speaking, the other English-speaking. It felt like I was a baby who needed to learn before being able to do anything.
As I “grew” and adapted to the culture, especially to the Columban culture, I mistakenly thought that we all understood each other and were on the same page when it came to our ideas of missionary life.
Later on I realized that it wasn’t that simple or easy as we all came from different cultural backgrounds and used various images and concepts even just to articulate a word in the same language. I overlooked the fact that each person is from a different background with a different understanding of language and culture. I saw how we needed to continuously develop communication skills and tools to help us have greater clarity and understanding, which ultimately can enable us to build bridges between us.
This is why I saw myself like the lamb in the movie wanting to bring about change in my situation. I thought something was not right, and I wanted to take a shortcut rather than go through the long process of learning about and adjusting to our situation which required time and patience.
Since returning to my home region, my work has taught me the importance of listening deeply to my inner voice and to my feelings–especially whenever I face challenges. I’m convinced this process of self-reflection will lead me to the path of building bridges in our community.
In the movie, I also relate to the rabbit in her relationship with the fox whom she instinctively distrusted in the beginning. She was able to face her fears and misconceptions about the fox to mend their friendship which was broken because of her mistake which hurt him.
Whenever I meet people who tell me to dye my hair, I’d remind myself to look carefully at how I feel about the situation. Rather than following my natural instinct to react strongly or defensively towards them, I choose to be mindful about my thoughts and feelings towards them and the situation. This can help me become a good neighbor to them regardless of what they think or say.
As I reflect on my experiences over many years since I joined Columban lay mission, I’m happy to find myself moving forward in my journey, standing at the “starting line” of being on mission in the Korean region.
Columban lay missionary Jung-Hae (Roberta) Kim lives and works in Korea