From the Collections

Lay Missioners in Asia

Four decades before the inception of an official lay missioner program, Maryknoll’s pioneering lay missioner, Dr. Harry Blaber, began his medical mission in China. Beginning in Hong Kong in 1974, more than 150 lay missioners have followed Dr. Blaber into Asia as missions opened in Japan (1975), Korea (1975), Philippines (1978), Nepal (1979), Taiwan (1981), Thailand (1982), Middle East (1988), Cambodia (1993), China (1994), Vietnam (1995) and East Timor (2002). These men and women have worked there in the areas of health and health care, justice and peace, pastoral ministry, education and sustainable development. They have touched the lives of the people they served, effected change in their mission field and in return have had their hearts and lives profoundly enriched. The following are a few of their personal reflections on their work and mission experiences:

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“Adapting to the language and culture of Korea was difficult in the beginning, but the people here give so much. And working with Hansen’s Disease, you come to recognize your own ‘disease.’ You also discover what you can do with what you have, like patients here who actually make chairs using their mouths.”
Missioner in Korea, 1982

“During the demonstrations in Macau in support of the pro-democracy students in Beijing, many deaf and physically handicapped workers at the center where I work joined in the marches. One young man became stalled after a tire on his wheelchair went flat. His determination undeflated, he let the air out of the other tire to equalize both wheels, then pushed with the rest.”
Missioner in Hong Kong, 1990

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“A fire raged though part of Site 2 refugee camp in Thailand, where my husband and I work at Maryknoll lay missioners. The fire spread quickly because the bamboo-and-thatch huts are cramped close together. Before the blaze could be contained, over 700 houses were destroyed and about 2,000 Khmer refugees left without shelter. Fortunately, no one was hurt. When we visited the site the next day, all we saw was rubble and ashes. People sifted through the dirt, looking for valuables. Others were rigging up sheets of plastic and bamboo poles to serve as a shelter from the sun. Parents were attempting to clean the black soot off their children. It was such a desolate scene, yet everywhere we went people greeted us with beautiful Khmer smiles. They exuded a calmness in defiance of the physical surroundings. An elderly woman sitting in the ashes of what had once been her house apologized that she could not offer us a chair. Perhaps these people were calm because they had so little to lose or because they have lost so much so many times before. Maybe they were sustained by their faith in the cycle of life – their understanding of the impermanence of all worldly things and their faith in a divine power that will ultimately make all things right.”
Missioner in Thailand, 1991

“It was the first day of repatriation for the 180,000 refugees, most of whom had spent 11 years in this camp on the Thai-Cambodia border, where I have been working as a Maryknoll lay missioner. Every night, as the other relief workers and I would leave camp, the children would surround our car, chanting, “OK, bye, bye! OK, bye, bye!” Now it was finally their turn to leave us! The first bus of Cambodian refugees returning to their homeland began to pull away from Site 2 refugee camp. With tears of both sorrow and joy, I ran toward the bus yelling, “OK, bye, bye! OK, bye, bye!”
Missioner in Thailand, 1993

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“One day at lunch at the homeless clinic where I work as a lay missioner in the Sanya district of Tokyo, one of the Japanese Sisters mentioned she had been baptized by a Maryknoll priest in Kyoto. Another Japanese Sister sitting with us mentioned she had been taught English by Maryknoll Sisters in Manchuria. And one of the elderly men remarked on the influence Maryknoll’s Alcohol Recovery Center had on his life. I was struck with awe and thankful for the Maryknoll missioners who proceeded me.”
Missioner in Japan, 1996

“Traveling back to Udon Thani in northeast Thailand, where I serve as a Maryknoll lay missioner, I was riding a songtaw (a pickup with benches used for public transportation). I got to talking to the driver. “What do you do here?” he asked me. I told him I have a computer center where I teach underprivileged youth and physically handicapped people. When we came to my stop and I went to pay the fare, he told me to use the money for the kids at our center. “You help our children; I help you,” he said, leaving me both moved and humbled.”
Missioner in Thailand, 1999

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“Domingas is one of the very young patients at our rehab project in East Timor, where I serve as a lay missioner. As part of her physical therapy, she was using a small wooden cart to help her learn to walk. Recently, thank God, she started to walk independently and no longer needed it, so I planned to take the cart for another child. When I arrived at her home, Domingas was happily pushing a homemade doll in the cart. I felt bad asking for the cart, but I tried to explain that there was another child who couldn’t walk. She reluctantly gave it up – and then, on second thought, offered me her doll as well.”
Missioner in East Timor, 2004

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