, by SOROOR AHMED
South Korean Christian missionaries caught by Taleban in Afghanistan. The news sounds somewhat strange nevertheless true. Whether Taleban’s action is right or wrong is not the issue of discussion here. Instead what comes as a big surprise for many of us is as to how can there be Christian missionaries in South Korea, the country about which the general impression is that it is a non-Christian nation. How can a country on the eastern hemisphere of the world and that so far away from Europe or Americas be a Christian nation? This is a question, which haunts many of us.
Till 1950, that is before the Korean War of 1950-53, there was only one per cent Christian in the then undivided Korea. Today almost half of the population of South Korea, which is under the American domination, follows that faith. So after Philippines –and of course Australia and New Zealand – it is emerging as another Christian country on the east. In Australia and New Zealand Christianity is more or less confined to the White colonisers who in the past few centuries virtually eliminated the original population of those countries. In Philippines it is the original population which embraced Christianity and South Korea is almost on the same path.
There is no denying the fact that occupation of Korea by the United States played a key role in the expansion and spread of Christianity in that country. Even in Japan – where nationalism has its deep root – China and Singapore Christianity has made some foothold. More than 10 per cent of Vietnam’s population is Roman Catholic. In the early 1960s the then South Vietnam had a Roman Catholic president. The missionaries are now targeting Indonesia, which has 90 per cent Muslim population and Malaysia, where more than half of population is Muslim and more than one-third is of Chinese origin.
Koreans have not only embraced Christianity in a big way but a good number of them even turned into missionaries. However, one thing needs to be examined closely. Now we find more and more non-European and non-American Christian missionaries – or say non-White missionaries – who are engaged in proselytizing their faith all over the world. Some experts term this development as the secularisation of the West, especially Europe. But of late things have changed, especially in the United States, where a sizeable population, about one-fourth, claim that they are Evangelist, a fundamentalist Protestant group. There is a big area called the Bible belt in that country.
These Evangelists are spreading to other countries too and are putting up a stiff challenge to the Roman Catholics. Even the essentially Roman Catholic countries of Latin America are facing a sort of threat from Evangelists.
But still there is one more angle to view this development. In the last quarter century or so there is perceptible decline in the presence of the White-skinned missionaries in the Third World countries. Till a couple of decades back almost all the missionary schools and hospitals in India were run either by American or European nuns and monks. Who is not aware of Mother Teresa? Now the entire lot has been replaced by the Indian priests. Not only that a large number of fathers and sisters from south Indian states, especially Kerala, are going even to the United States to work as missionaries – a strange development.
No one can now just blame this bizarre development on the secularisation of the society in the West. When the ungodly philosophies, like Communism, were at its peak, even then the White missionaries had been spreading all over the world. What has gone wrong in the West now when people are reverting back to religion?
Perhaps more than any other factor it is the missionaries, which in the past, played the most important role in the spread of western education, culture, dress, language etc in a large part of Third World countries. It is true in India the British rulers were the followers of the Anglican Church, but a sizeable number of the nuns and monks who arrived there from all parts of Europe and US were Roman Catholics. Many of them even opposed some of the policies of the British imperialists. Still by spreading the western education, culture, language and dress they facilitate the growth of the British empire. The missionaries made the same contribution for the spread and strengthening the French, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Italian etc empires all over the world.
These White priests from the West not only converted a large number of local population, they even made them soft towards the West. They got themselves absorbed in the local society be it in the jungle of Nagaland, Jharkhand or deep Africa. They mastered the local languages, compiled dictionaries and wrote extensively on the respective societies. They were engaged in the health and education sectors.
Not only White priests even the doctors, other social workers etc spread themselves far and wide to different countries. For example, during the Small Pox Eradication Campaign doctors from West would go to deep villages of India to work and inoculate the people.
These developments did not take place all out of sudden. Men like Graham Staines from Australia was, along with two sons, killed by the Bajrang Dal men while working in the deep forest of Orissa. But then it is an established fact that White priests, social workers, doctors, teachers, nurses are now few and far between in the Third World countries. The Christian missionaries are there everywhere but not necessarily White-skinned.
Today the White-skinned people can be found in the Third World but they are not the missionaries or the social workers. They are army personnel, corporate bosses, media persons and top executives. They will remain confined to the air-conditioned chambers in the big cities and urban-industrial centres. This phenomenon needs to be examined properly. Even the Western army stationed in the Third World countries now prefer to remain confined to their air-conditioned bases and air-conditioned tanks. Unlike in the past they too have become soft and pleasure-loving. This is a dangerous sign for the western society. It needs to be understood that all the civilization, empires etc collapse when they are at their peak. In the matter of a few years everything turns upside down – in 1988 none could ever predict that by 1991 Soviet Union would cease to exist.
When 30,000 Israeli soldiers failed to break the defence line of 3,000 poorly-armed Hizbullahs last year most Israeli war-veterans expressed their grave concern over the change of profile of the Israeli army. How could such an advanced army not beat a small group of non-state actors? Forty years back the same Israeli army with less sophisticated weapons managed to beat three Arab armies within six days in the torrid desert summer of June 1967. Today they try to fight sitting within air-conditioned tanks.
Today the West is trying to win the world just by sophisticated arms and big multi-national corporations. These are not the only factors responsible for the consolidation and expansion of any empire. There are other significant factors which too contribute. Believe it or not the White race is becoming less hard-working, more fun and pleasure-loving than those a few decades ago. In those heydays their missionaries, their social workers, doctors, teachers, hands-on philanthropists, aid-workers etc used to work as their ambassadors all over the world. Today that is missing. Instead the west is relying on the brain drain. They need both our skilled and semi-skilled workers to survive. It is too early to predict their actual decline, but the writing is on the wall.