by Haemin Lee (Ph.D. Candidate, Emory University)
Global mission is definitely something special for many Korean Christians. There are currently about 20,000 overseas Korean missionaries working in 170 different countries. They engage in a wide spectrum of mission work that ranges from church planting to aid and development operation. Recently, my field research related to Christian mission took me to Panama where I met a Korean missionary who has been involved in a unique mission – working with homeless people. As I arrived at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, a middle-aged Korean man in a clean black suit came up to me and greeted me with a big smile. This was my first time meeting Daniel Wong-Sup Woo, who is a part of Korean Presbyterian Global Mission Society. Also, his mission has been partly supported by Korea Food for the Hungry International (KFHI) – a Korean aid and development organization that I have served as an international operations advisor. A mutual friend of ours from KFHI introduced us to each other.
As a devout Presbyterian, Woo has always been passionate about international mission. He hopes to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ both through word and deed. Woo currently works with homeless people and underprivileged children in a town called David, about a seven-hour drive from Panama City. In this area, locals call the poor “indigente” or “indijena,” both of which have derogatory connotations. Woo has spent the past seven years in Panama serving as missionary along with his Peruvian wife Sherly. Before Panama, he had lived in Lima, Peru again as missionary. Unfortunately, his ten-year long service in Peru ended abruptly following the tragic loss of his only son. After this insurmountable loss, Woo desperately searched for meaning in life. His long discernment and grief eventually gave him a new calling, which is to serve “the least of these.” In a way, his own experience of loss and grief helped him become more compassionate about the loss of others. Initially, Woo was involved with church planting and ministry for children. But after noticing a need for the destitute and homeless in the area, he decided to focus his ministry on helping them. Sadly though, most regular church members stopped coming to the church after Woo decided to have a joint service with the homeless people. He shared with me that the lack of support has disheartened him a great deal. Despite all the challenges, his mission for the poor continues.
“The field” gives me a valuable opportunity to put missiological concepts into context. For example, the mission of Woo demonstrates one of the ways in which a kenotic – emptying oneself in light of the ministry of Jesus Christ – mission can be actualized. On the one hand, some missiologists might find Woo’s mission self-sacrificial and admirable in the sense that he stands with the poor by tending to their physical and spiritual needs. On the other hand, however, others would criticize Woo’s lack of interest in political and structural injustice issues in Panama. Whichever position one takes, missiology, the theological and critical reflection about mission, cannot be separated from mission practices in various fields.