Dr. Paul Hwang
Director of Woori Theology Institute (WTI)
Masue (not real name) looks not much different from other migrants forced to migrate to the Ranong region, one of the southernmost areas of Thailand. Although the 49 year-old Myanmar woman lives in a hut-looking wooden house set up as low as on the sea surface, so the tide gets in and pops up from its floor more than five times every month, her living condition seems not as bad as other migrants living in the attached houses near to hers. Because of the military dictator’s suppression upon her father-in-law who had involved in a political party and having protested against it, she and her husband had to move to Malaysia and then to the Thailand region 24 years ago, having left behind her two daughters. In the meantime, the first daughter has completed her university and become a teacher and the second is attending a university. Recently, she and her husband who are working for a woodcutting factory in the region, got a chance to visit the two daughters having taken care of by her elder sister for the first time after they left Myanmar. She and her sister have kept the secret between them that while she remains their ‘aunt’ her sister pretends to be their mother. Instead, Masue, the real mother, has supported them by sending money to her sister in order to take care of them and her sister’s family in Myanmar.
The House of Masue set up at the very end from the land to the sea.
Although she thinks it is rather fortunate that the two daughters don’t know the truth and call her sister their mother until now, she feels a deep sadness in herself. Since that was done in the past, she would be happy if she decides to tell them the truth and lives together with her daughters. But she decided not to do so, she said by struggling to fight tears back, but could not help it and cry in tears a lot. She continued that she had to do so because, even though the political situation in Myanmar is getting better, the military power is still so fierce until now that they could harm her children if they could identify she and her husband are their real parents.
Eating a late lunch because of the tide flooding in the room which is withdrawn back to the sea, I could not help but admit her decision would be impossible, if she is not truly strong and brave, considering Asian’s general sentiment to cherish family most. The story of Masue is checkered and heartbroken. But it would be only one of 3 million migrants or refugees from Myanmar. The number will exceed 5 million if some 2 million “undocumented” migrants from the country are counted. It is highly probable that there are migrants or refugees from it in a more and critical situation than Masue who is not undocumented. Although they work for “3D Jobs”: dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs, laborers in receiving countries regard them as the “job stealers”. They think that it is totally untrue and unfair. What is missing are their voice and situations where many unimaginable things happen. Even if we hear their voice, it would not be easy for us to understand their agony, suffering and hope before we actually “experience” them.
The tide popping up from the floor of the wooden house.
Such kind of experience has been explored in the pan-Asia youth formation program in which some 70 young lay leaders, church-related NGO activists, theologians and those involved in social actions. Among the participants are two members of Call To Action (CTA) in the US and one from International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC). It was organized by Asian Lay Leaders (ALL) Forum on Aug. 17-26. Joe Kruse, one of CTA members, wrote about it and published it on CTA blog as follows:
“Not only did I see the exploitative conditions from which products often make their way to the USA, but also witnessed and lived among the poverty that is the result of the exploitation… But those few nights of experiencing their incredible hospitality were a heart-breaking lesson in the violent realities of global inequality.”
Joe could make a connection between Thailand and the US in relation to the exploitative relationship. Also he could not only learn from it but also see a vision for his church through the experience.
“While dialoging and learning from my incredible colleagues at this conference, I have grown more hopeful and excited about the future of my Church. I am now confident that this cultural transition will not only change the Church for the better, it will save it.”
The young participants from 15 countries in Asia who joined the youth program
By the church he seems not to mean institutional or hierarchical church in Asia. It is because the “incredible colleagues” he mentioned were Catholic activists scattered in many countries in Asia who have had no care or support from the institutional church. We have many “progressive” theologies that Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has produced for the past some 45 years. But the level of their implementation of the Asian theologies looks close to zero. FABC is progressive in theory and conservative in practice as well as progressive externally but internally conservative. Many say FABC is not a body for laypeople but bishop without any planning to set up a representative body for the laity in Asia in which bishops could have a genuine dialogue with lay leaders.
We as laypeople, therefore, need “collegiality” among laity especially among church-related NGOs working for urgent social problems to empower themselves. This is so that laypeople could establish a correspondence body representing lay leaders from the whole Asia in order to initiate a dialogue with clergy especially bishops. In that, finally “the People of God” could gather and discuss how we could make our church effectively serve the Kingdom of God by implementing theologies of FABC. It is the best way for laypeople in Asia to make the church a “field hospital” for the wounded people and not a confined one only for clergy. For this, global solidarity like what CTA and IMWAC showed is necessary. Through mutual learning, sharing and experiencing together with those Catholics from global north and south, they already start and lead to the “world church” to face the global problems which is to be a new vision of the church in 21st century.