[Outlook]Value of short-term missionsGeorge Tarmarin, an Israeli psychologist, conducted a test. He read about Joshua’s attack of Jericho in the book of Joshua in the Bible to some 1,000 children. “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord... [They] destroyed with the sword every living thing in it ― men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.”
Tamarin asked the children, “Do you think Joshua and the Israeli people acted justly or not?”
Sixty-six percent of the children totally approved of the act, and 26 percent entirely disapproved of it. Tamarin changed the text slightly and read it to another group of Israeli children. This time General Lin was substituted for Joshua, and a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago for Israel.
The answers were the opposite. A mere 7 percent of children approved of General Lin’s act, while 75 percent disapproved of it.
In his book, “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, used this experiment as an example to explain how religion can distort people’s moral values and judgment. In reality, massacre is sanctioned in the name of religion. Now it seems that Korea’s society has become an object of Tamarin’s test.
The question is this: “Twenty-three Christians went to an Islamic country and did missionary work. Did they act rightly?” The question is then changed to this: “Twenty-three Korean youths went to a war-ravaged country and did voluntary work to provide medical assistance. Did they act rightly?”
Respondents’ answers will be opposite depending on the question just as in the results of Tamarin’s test.
People will disapprove of and criticize the first case while approving of and praising the second. Depending on the element of religion, people’s reactions can change from compliments to condemnation.
Then what about this question? “Twenty-three Christians went to an Islamic country and did voluntary work to provide medical assistance. Did they act rightly?” I do not mean to play with words. I say this because some people insist on sticking to the word “missionary work,” instead of “volunteer work,” as if it was impossible for Christians to do the latter.
Some people surf the Internet and search for photos and clips that will support their argument and spread hatred, while ignoring photos of young volunteer workers feeding and taking care of sick and starving children.
People who have been to places like Palestine, Iraq or Lebanon know what missionary work is like in such areas. Christians in these areas cannot shout, “Believe in Jesus!” even though that might be the ultimate goal of their missions. If one shouts that, not only the missionary will be killed on the spot but also if any Muslim listens to the missionary, families and neighbors of that person will throw stones at him or her until they are killed. Instead, Christians in these areas offer support and share hardship. That is the only way to carry out Jesus’ order to spread the gospel to the end of the world. So “missionary” and “volunteer” works are often confused.
I do not believe in a specific God, but I support volunteer work in the name of missions, even though a competition for power and dominance among Korean churches lies behind this work. I support their work because countless people in the world live in places where wars never end because of religious differences, and they are desperately in need of help. There are many missionaries who run great risks to go through extreme difficulties to help them.
Pastor Kang Tae-yoon, 49, is one of these. He is known as the godfather of Palestinian children. Eighteen years ago, he built a kindergarten instead of a church in Bethlehem, where Palestinian militias walk about freely with rifles on their shoulders. He did so in order to plant the seeds of coexistence.
Five years ago he said, “Those kids are busy running and playing now. But years from now, they will be the ones holding rifles instead of their fathers or uncles. This vicious circle of deepening hatred must be put to an end. We need to teach love to break the cycle. That’s the only way to do it.” I believe in the power of this love. Now it may appear weak, but short-term missionary work will produce another Kang. In the process, the world will become a better place to live in, if ever so slightly.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom