Travelling to strange places and leaving familiar things behind entails a mixed feeling of excitement, joy as well as fear. Although I do not like to travel, travelling makes me courageous and motivated.
A few years ago, my friend and I went backpacking to India for about a month. We visited the Ganges River of Varanasi, Taj Mahal, and the Golden Temple where life and death coexist. The faith and culture of Indian people fascinated me. However, because of the difficulties arising from the language barrier and unexpected incidents, I was brought to the police station there. I also got sick because of the unfamiliar food and long and tiring travel. Looking back, the trip was not always pleasant. Nevertheless, the trip left a special mark in my heart not because of the trip itself, but because I know why I went there.
At the time when I was dreaming about, and preparing myself to be, a lay missionary, I was hoping to work in a faraway and poor country where the people look different from us. I thought working in that kind of place was real missionary work and therefore, I was in fact disappointed when the place I was assigned was Taiwan. It seemed too near Korea. The people look not much different from Koreans, and even the food and culture are similar with those of Korea. Taiwanese people consist of 98% Taoists and Buddhists while only a mere 2% belong to other religions including Catholicism.
Four to five months after I was assigned to Taiwan, I had a big worry. In fact, I was so confused that I could not figure out how to live with poor people, putting into practice the message of Christ. Everything seemed meaningless and I was filled with fear. There was no joy, excitement or happiness. Even my own existence felt strange. I just wanted to go back to Korea, the place I am familiar with and where my family lives.
However, going through these difficult times, I felt the joy of meeting a new God whom I had been unable to see when I was used to everything around me. I think missionary life is about leaving all familiar things behind in order to encounter the profound love of God who wants me to see the same things from different perspectives.
Sometimes I wanted to run away from this strange place to a familiar place. However, the reason I stayed is not because I am very good at what I am doing but because I now know why I am here: hope. Columban lay missionaries lead ordinary lives among all kinds of people, like Jesus Christ who lived among us for 30 years as a carpenter, a neighbor and the son of Mary. As love and hope grew within that ordinary life, I also continue to grow by remaining in relationship with God. I will always be with the poor and those marginalized in society.
Columban lay missionary Lee Su Bin lives and works in Taiwan.