Reflections on Missionary Life

My grandparents became missionaries in Chonju Korea in 1948. My grandmother, Dot Hopper, wrote this address for the for Chunju station’s prayer meeting on January 21, 1971.

Re-evaluation of yourself and work as a missionary took a lot of time in our mission this year. You all did it on account of the Williams being out here; you might say we’ve been doing it the past two years because of the jolts of the Cranes and the Mitchells leaving after our working with them for 21 years each. When they and we volunteered to the Board of World Missions for service in Korea, it was understood for lifetime work until retirement age unless providentially kept from fulfilling that obligation by ill health or by upheavals such as wars which might prevent one’s presence here. I used to think that missionaries who quit for other than those two reasons had sorta chickened out and rather fell into the category of Jesus’ parable, “He what putteth his hand to the plow and turneth back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” However, I’ve done some more thinking about that ever since Dave Chu, sitting on our sofa one evening, told how time and again he had seen instances in China where a missionary who had initially done good or even great work for the Lord through an institution or in some particular place stubbornly refused to be moved and clung to that position and that place long past his time of usefulness there. And so I now leave other missionaries to their personal interpretation of God’s will for them and remember Tommy brown’s sermon, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me. . .”

Missionaries are not as essential in Korea as they used to be for the simple reason that there are now more trained nationals to help with tasks which missionaries used to perform. That is true in the medical field which has always striven to show the love of Christ through acts of healing and preaching the Gospel to the physically ill and their families. It is true in the educational field where Korea now has so many college-trained people and even many with all sorts of degrees of higher learning, many of them earned abroad. And nobody can debate the fact that generally speaking Koreans speak their mother tongue better than foreigners and know her culture better and therefore know better how to run her institutions, save perhaps for that tricky question of maintaining standards. In spite of the statistics that there are now more unsaved, non-Christian Koreans in this land because of its burgeoning population than there used to be when the first Protestant missionaries came here, still we evangelistic missionaries know that Korea also has strong national churches of many denominations, and that she has some very fine Christian leadership. For this we thank the Lord and we know that our presence is not as essential as it used to be, and that souls are being saved from sin, and from hell, for God and to everlasting life and nurtured up in the Christian faith, and that this will be true whether American missionaries remain or not. . .But having said that, we still can look with anguish on the many weaknesses of the Korean church, on her lack of outreach to the lost on many levels, to her limited vision of Christian education, and we can state with certainty that as long as the Lord permits us to remain in this land there is work for us to do. There are in Seoul and some of the big cities monumental Christians like Dr. Han Young Chik of Young-Nak Church; there are villages with one Christian girl and that is it; there are islands and villages where there is not one single solitary believer in our Lord. And there are places where nobody but the outreaching missionary cares about the folks and whether they live or die spiritually. This we see and know. And for us The Great Commission still stands.

So, I can say with conviction, that though none of us knows if or what divisions may come in our home denomination with the next several years, and how they may affect our evangelistic witness overseas, As far as the Hoppers now see it, we’ll be with you for a while as part of the team trying to proclaim Christ in this land.

In this regard I want to say that Generally speaking and through the years, I have gone along with the way our denomination has carried on its mission program. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits,” and I believe that the overall picture of the work of our mission as teams of Christians carrying on for the Lord around the world through the years has been good. I have not yet had the opportunity to get hold of the book and read it, but evidently a Jewish post-graduate student working or a Ph.D. or some-such at a northern university last year finished his thesis which dealt with a study of the APCM (American Presbyterian Congo Mission) where I grew up. Thought completely unbiased, he found that our work had been good. And, so I believe it was. ..We work in a Christian team situation; now days much is made of team teaching. We are team missionaries. It is not that anyone of us as an individual, merely a link in the chain is so great; but the complete chain of work is strong and fine and useful for the Lord, and carrying out His will in this exciting Korea of nowadays. Remove one link in the chain and it is weakened. . .

Of course the missions per se in this day and time are being phased out, as we work with national church structures. And that is difficult for some of us older ones to get used to. Yet in those church structures also, we still try to work in a democratic way and through church courts and those ways are, I believe, what our Bible teaches – though they are not as simple for us as autocratic, one-man boss ways would be.

Evangelistic work.

First let me say that I am not a believer in “women’s lib.” Margaret Hopper told us of some English-class debates at KCA where Women’s Lib was to be discussed. It was assumed that the girls would defend the affirmative side. However, none of the girls wanted to, so the boys were pressed into taking it. . .I agree with Margaret. I have always considered my husband’s work out here of more moment than mine, and know that had I never come to Korea nothing would have been radically different in the history of the Korean Church; but that is not true of Joe. He could drive you around in the province and show you church after church (in our own denomination and in two other once-upon-a-time in our denomination churches which he was instrumental in helping found, or place a worker there, or build a roof or a floor with our tithe, or some other way to help get it started. We realize that in the Bible and in his church work, the Apostle Paul has nothing to say about helping his congregations yet church buildings, and get out here in a country of cold winters and homes with tiny rooms where large groups cannot meet, a building large enough for a group of Christians to meet in is essential.

A married woman’s life is divided into spans. While her children are young and at home, her activities are limited, and mine were, particularly since I had the bulk of teaching school to my children to do myself. During those years my main Christian outreach into the Korean community was through my work first in the Wha San and later the Zion Church. I alternated my Korean help babysitting on Sunday mornings so that I could go regularly to Korean Church , and with increasing understanding through the years I have been blessed by that Sunday morning worship. When the children were a bit older I became part of the women’s work and a circle, and through that circle made friends with whom I shall always feel close. For years, unless prevented by a sick child or other engagement, I regularly visited with a minister’s wife or deaconess or Bible woman from the Wha San or Zion Church and learned to know a lot of the folks and where they lived and what their problems were in the area back of our compound. The Zion Women of the Church group had a gay time playing Yut in our home Saturday night before last. Among them there were at least three women I really feel that, because of my visitation, are now Christians and active in the church.

I’ve also off and on for years worked with the women of the Presbyterial. I am not an organizer and cannot inspire to great tasks like Nancy has the talent of doing, but at least the women know that I love them and love the Lord, and from the sidelines am trying to help them.

For years before I was free to go with him, Joe and I had planned that I would accompany him in his country itineration when our children were older. And the Men’s Bible Class at Covenant Church in Charlotte was used of the Lord to provide us with our trailer, and now going with him provides me with real satisfaction as I feel that at last I am using all the talents I’ve got in teaching, in speaking Korean, in visiting, in using my rapport with children. I had imagined that going to the country I’d be a real help and feel real close to the women, but it has not worked out that way. For one thing, most of the churches we go to are so small and so weak that merely a church service is an accomplishment and they are not up to starting any women’s organization. For another thing, the women are usually busy: fixing meals or walking long ways to church or being examined for church membership. . .So it has worked out that my main contribution in the country has been to teach the elementary-aged school children and how I do love them! I wish you could see the alert upturned faces as they sit packed together on the floor: little girls on women’s side, boys on men’s side. . .It gives me a tremendous charge to lead children’s services and teach them Bible stories, and as I return to the same little churches time after time – once in the fall, once in the spring – they are beginning to look forward to my coming. But always there is an ache in my heart akin to that of Christ looking over Jerusalem and saying, “I would. . .but you would not. . .” Because near each of our tiny chapels and sometimes just next door is a government-built elementary school with hundreds and hundreds of youngsters could walk to day meetings at church as well as they can come to school. Yet the evangelist and the community are content if the Sunday School numbers 40, 60, 80, or 100 plus children. Think of the other hundreds and hundreds who do not learn about Jesus in the days of their youth! Speak of a mission field. . .this is mine!

For spring itinerating and then again for the fall I get up a new Bible talk in Korean and for me this does not come easy. I plan it first in English, get it translated into Korean, recopy it in my own hand in Korean I can read, and then have it recorded on tape. And hours of study from the tape and the notebook are necessary before I can, without notes, get up and tell Bible stories for the children. I used to use flannel-graphs, but now have these large picture rolls with which I tell the stories. Joe thinks I try to cram too much content into one talk; however since I am only there twice a year, I do it on purpose. And since the children enjoy the pictures which are a treat for them, I can get away with longer stories than you would usually teach to a regular class. I have to be flexible. Sometimes the time allotted to my service is longer (an hour), sometimes just 45 minutes or just half-an-hour. But I have learned to be pushier than I used to be, and if the local church leadership does not invite me, I ask, and can get up a crowd of children just any time. Sometimes adults are also at the service, but my main aim is toward the boys and girls.

And there is the house-to-house visiting in the country. This too I love. We find some Koreans very responsive to the Gospel. Other times you are rudely rebuffed and sometimes you know in their responses they don’t really care about the Lord or their own souls. Sometimes they make excuses, as silly and universal as those non-believers make the world around. I do not always feel needed when Joe visits, but frequently we come to a home where just wife and children, or just a teenaged girl is home, and they I feel they appreciate the presence of another woman.

When we are young we have great dreams of what we will accomplish for the Lord. We like slogans, “The world for Christ in this generation. . .” when you reach the half-century mark as I have, you think a bit more soberly about yourself and the world. I don’t go for the big talk of “Korea becoming a Christian nation,” anymore than I go for calling the United States or England a “Christian nation.” As I understand the Bible, there will be wheat (those who love the Lord and are saved from their sins and will inherit eternal life) and there will be tares (those who reject God’s salvation in Christ and prefer the works of darkness) till the end of time. And so it will be in Korea. Neither the Korean Church, nor our Mission, nor all the missionaries of all denominations together will succeed in converting everyone in Korea. Yet, in this day of new highways and industrialization, we can continue to “ hold forth the word of life” at every level possible, in word and deed. I’ve been interested in a book for Jon-Jon Rickabaugh’s Sunday School last year, and one for the primary children this year, on “Becoming Myself.” It helps boys and girls think of themselves in the light of how God made them, and though I can’t spell it out as to chapter and verse I believe the Bible does teach us this question asked in the letter to the reader: “Did you know that you are a special person and no one else can ever take your place?” That is true of each of us, and it’s true of me. And within my limitations of ability and personality I have to serve my Lord here. I used to hope that when my children were older and I had more time, I’d really buckle down and learn Korean for you certainly can’t communicate without people about their souls and about Christ if you can’t use words! However, I’ve come to realize that I will never learn to speak it well and that learning simple Bible talks, and plugging along in the Wives Korean Class now under Mrs. Soh is as much as I can manage. Though I have a Master’s Degree in Religious Education, I am not an administrator or educator like Alma and Cora, and I’m learning to be content with having lesser goals: being friendly to the sick and witnessing to them with pictures and simple stories of Jesus, loving the orphans, just being with Joe as he visits in the churches. It pleases me that as you read stories of our Lord’s life and our Lord of the universe as well as Son of Man Jesus knew the urgency of proclaiming “Repent ye,” yet still there is a relaxed quality about his life as recorded in the Gospels. He waited 30 years to begin His major ministry. He went about the towns and villages, teaching and preaching and healing and doing good to those with whom God providentially brought Him in contact in each 24 hour span of time. He had peace in His heart. And so can we.

My goals? To be a missionary with a message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ; to add a quality of saltiness and leaven and light to the Christian scene in Chunju and places near it.

Yesterday’s mail brought a letter from Bernice Jamison, an afflicted saint from our first pastorate in the sticks near Roanoke, Virginia. It’s a boost to know that we are not only laborers together with God but with the Korean Church and with people like Bernice who write “May God bless you and may many ‘Behold God’s Glory’ is my prayer always.” Amen.

At prayer time: A poem prayer that I used at a Davidson Conference when I was a college student:

Laid on thine altar, Oh, my Lord divine, Accept this will of mine, for Jesus’ sake. I have no offering to adorn Thy shrine, No far-famed sacrifice to make, Yet here within my trembling hand I bring, This will of mine, a thing which seemeth small. And Thou, alone, oh Lord, can’st understand How when I bring Thee this, I bring my all. . .